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UAW sues GM over plans to 'unallocate' 3 plants before contract expires

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
A sign in front of General Motors Co.’s Lordstown Assembly Plant welcomes drivers exiting the Ohio Turnpike in Lordstown, accompanied by a Drive it Home yard sign. Photographed Feb. 19, 2019.

The United Auto Workers is suing General Motors Co. over the automaker's plans to stop production at three U.S. plants before the current labor contract expires later this year.

The lawsuit filed by the UAW Tuesday in Ohio accuses GM of violating the terms of the 2015 UAW-GM national contract, specifically the Plant Closing and Sale Moratorium outlined in the agreement.

The union is seeking to keep Lordstown Assembly, Warren Transmission and Baltimore Operations running at least until the existing agreement between the UAW and GM expires in September. All three plants are slated to stop production in the coming months, with Lordstown the first to close its doors on March 8.

The automaker's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly is not included in the lawsuit because production of the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala was recently extended through January 2020, reaching beyond the expiration of the 2015 GM-UAW agreement.

In a larger restructuring announcement on Nov. 26, GM was careful in its language addressing production stops at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, Warren Transmission, Baltimore Operations and Lordstown Assembly in Ohio. GM said these plants would be "unallocated," indicating that the products currently built at these plants would stop production without anything to immediately replace them.

The UAW alleges that use of the word "unallocated" deliberately avoids the words "idle or "close," which are explicitly addressed in the 2015 agreement, set to expire in mid-September.

"Notwithstanding its obligations under that letter agreement," the UAW wrote in its lawsuit, GM "has decided that the following plants will be 'unallocated' — which is a synonym for 'closed' or 'idled.'"

GM refuted this claim in a statement Tuesday, but declined to comment further.

"The announcements made by General Motors on November 26 do not violate the provisions of the UAW-GM National Agreement," the company said. "We continue to work with the UAW on solutions to our business challenges."

The filing of the lawsuit follows the UAW's first formal challenge of the decision outlined in a December letter to GM. It opens another avenue of resistance to GM's restructuring plans, which also target the closure of an assembly plant in Oshawa, Ont.

"For UAW members in GM Warren Transmission Operations, GM Lordstown Assembly and in the GM GPS Baltimore plant in Maryland, the UAW is determined to leave no stone unturned to make sure that their contractual rights are honored," UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, director of the union's GM department, said in a statement. "The UAW believes that General Motors is in breach of the 2015 Collective Bargaining terms."

The long-term fate of Lordstown, Warren Transmission, Baltimore Operations and Detroit-Hamtramck will likely be decided during contract negotiations this summer between GM and the UAW. Talks between the union and the Detroit automaker are likely to be dominated by efforts to ensure new products are allocated to some or all of the affected plants.

Twitter: @NoraNaughton