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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Opel unions rally workers to save at-risk plant

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Opel unions rally workers to save at-risk plant

DECEMBER 4, 2009 06:01 CET

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -- Opel labor leaders hope the threat of an even bigger pay cut will push its 50,000-strong work force to protest the potential closure of an assembly plant in Antwerp, Belgium.

In a newsletter distributed to all Opel plants on Wednesday, the European Employee Forum (EEF), Opel's senior labor council, calculated the portion of 265 million euros ($401 million) in overall annual wage concessions that parent General Motors Co. wants includes 20.2 million euros from Antwerp.

Should all the 2,300 Belgian workers be eliminated from the payroll, the EEF expects each remaining Opel worker would face an extra cut in pay of 7 percent, or about 500 euros per person.

"Solidarity pays off," the EEF wrote in an appeal to its members.

A spokesman for Opel could not explain where unions had obtained the figures used in the flyer distributed to employees.

Labor's tactics may help patch up deep divisions across Opel's work force that emerged in recent months as national governments competed against each other to secure local Opel jobs.

The Belgian region of Flanders has offered 300 million euros in loan guarantees and a further 200 million euro sale and leaseback deal to help protect the Antwerp plant, which has no new model in the pipeline, but GM has yet to respond to the offer.

The possible closure of the plant follows the collapse of GM's planned sale of Opel to Canadian auto parts supplier Magna International Inc., under pressure from workers in the UK and Spain who opposed a deal they believe unfairly gave their colleagues in Germany special treatment.

Detroit now plans to restructure Opel itself and Germany and Belgium are expected to shoulder most of the 8,300 planned job cuts -- redundancies likely to be financed with the help of taxpayer aid from the UK, Spain and Poland.

Alternative business case

Were GM to build up to 120,000 small Opel and Chevrolet SUVs annually in Antwerp starting in 2012 instead, as agreed last year, it could avoid spending an estimated 400 million euros in much-needed cash to close down the plant, labor said.

"In addition it would be an important positive signal to the trade unions that the new management will be a reliable partner," the EEF said.

It has drafted an alternative business case for Antwerp along with consultants at Management Engineers that forecasts an overall net profit contribution of a half billion euros over the next seven years, when the sale and leaseback deal is included and the closure costs are avoided.

According to the plan, the old Astra three-door and cabrio versions would continue to be built until 2011, by which point the site would begin production of an Agila minivan replacement based on the existing Corsa developed with Fiat S.p.A.

Come 2012, a small Opel SUV using the new Gamma platform would be added. They also hope to win the next Combo panel van production volume that has yet to be allocated.

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Detroit now plans to restructure Opel itself and Germany and Belgium are expected to shoulder most of the 8,300 planned job cuts -- redundancies likely to be financed with the help of taxpayer aid from the UK, Spain and Poland.

I was expecting this would be the case. I hope that Belgium at least gets a fair shot at keeping the Antwerp plant open since they are offering to help GM.

Edited by PONTIAC06
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Maybe they wouldn't be in this situation if they allowed each worker to choose which pay level to accept?

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I was expecting this would be the case. I hope that Belgium at least gets a fair shot at keeping the Antwerp plant open since they are offering to help GM.

We'll see...

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Maybe they wouldn't be in this situation if they allowed each worker to choose which pay level to accept?

Doubtful. Besides, why manufacture in the West at all if Chinese factory workers are content with $200 a week?

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Doubtful. Besides, why manufacture in the West at all if Chinese factory workers are content with $200 a week?

That's exactly right. But my point was that maybe there are some German (probably immigrant) workers who are also willing to work for that rate, but the government and union won't let them.

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