Tonawanda News

October 16, 2009

TOWN OF TONAWANDA: GM rehires 58 previously laid off workers

By David J. Hill<br><a href="mailto:hilld@gnnewspaper.com">E-mail David</a>

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — For the first time in a long time, local industry is adding workers to its assembly lines.

The town’s GM Powertrain plant has recalled 58 of the workers from indefinite volume-related permanent layoff, said Plant Communications Manager Nina Price. The recalls, which involve workers who were laid off over 40 weeks ago, is a result of increased demand for GM vehicles during the fourth quarter of this year and into early next year.

Plant Manager Steve Finch said it’s great anytime workers are coming back rather than being laid off, but that he’s not ready to say the plant is out of the woods just yet. The 58 workers coming back leaves more than 300 hourly workers still on layoff.

“It’s kind of cautious optimism,” Finch said. “Certainly there are still some hurdles we need to overcome.”

Part of that caution comes from the fact that this demand is somewhat self-created. The plant extended its summer shutdown by a week this year in response to decreased demand for engines. That, combined with the success of the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program, helped move the inventory dealers had languishing on their lots.

“Now we’re replenishing the hit taken in the summer months,” Finch said.

Workers have been recalled to work on the Eco Tech four-cylinder engine used in the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR models. The plant is now working at normal capacity on that line, even finding some overtime is necessary to fill the orders. Demand for those models in particular signals a shift in consumer interest toward cars with smaller, more efficient engines, but making sure U.S. buyers get them from GM is another challenge. Finch said company programs like a five-year/100,000 mile warranty and a 60-day return policy are aimed at letting customers know GM believes its products can stand toe-to-toe with the competition and succeed.

“We’ve got a lot of programs to let people know we’re in this to stay,” Finch said.

Contact reporter Daniel Pyeat 693-1000, ext. 158.