Unions, not "right to work" laws, bring back an automaker

HAZELWOOD, Mo. - (PAI) The labor movement is a key part of a recently successful effort to get a company to build a plant here that will produce diesel/electric vehicles.
While looking at 25 states, Emerald Automotive, a British company, selected Missouri, and the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, specifically, as the site for their initial $175 million investment for several key reasons. These include availability of a skilled automotive-oriented workforce; support from state and local governments; enthusiastic cooperation of the local business community, and cooperation and support from the labor community.

A site in Hazelwood has not yet been selected, officials said.

Initially, Emerald is expected to hire some 300 people by 2013, and 581 by 2014, ultimately leading to more than 1,000 new jobs being created as other supplier firms build near the plant. It plans to build 10,000 electric hybrid vans yearly, starting in 2015.

The plant will be "100 percent union built" adds Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council. The building trades - especially the Sheet Metal Workers and the Plumbers - enthusiastically support its construction.

Building trades unions are willing to bring to the table union pension funds and other union related funding sources that invest in construction to consider investing in this project and provide critical construction capital, Aboussie explained.

"Missouri opened its resources to us," Emerald spokesperson Sharon Heaton, the company's general counsel, told the Labor Tribune. After visiting many of the 25 states, "Missouri was clearly the right partner. They understood our needs. They provide the right working relationship for us. Everyone was very much about 'How do we make this happen?'"
One of Missouri's key strategic advantages, she said, is the availability of a skilled, car assembly workforce. Noting that their new vehicle will not be mass produced, but rather a niche vehicle, Heaton pointed out, "There is a different skill set needed for this vehicle," skills that require more hands-on assembly rather than the use of machines. Hands-on skills are the kinds of assembly skills that are in abundance among Missouri's autoworkers, the company determined.

That's great news for the many thousands of unemployed auto workers here, the United Auto Workers said. It also came just before UAW opened talks with the Detroit 3, pledging intense cooperation.

"The UAW is excited that they are coming into the area, not only excited for our laid-off workers here, but for the entire State of Missouri for the positive economic impact it will have," said regional director Jim Wells. "We look forward to working with the company, the community, and the state to make this a successful endeavor," he told the Labor Tribune.
Hazelwood Mayor Matt Robinson, a working member of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268, said the car company's executives wanted union involvement and commitment. "Andy Tempest, Emerald Automotive's CEO, worked in Detroit and is very familiar with the unions, and committed to working with them here," he said.

"We are here to deliver a product the customer wants and we are here to let the workforce share in that," Tempest told KSDK-TV. His primary goal is growing Emerald domestically and globally.
"We view [the unions] as partners in what we're trying to build. We expect to have a mutually beneficial relationship," said Heaton, the auto firm's general counsel. "We are absolutely committed to working with the unions," Heaton added.

"They told us they want a well-qualified workforce, which we have here, and that they intend to pay a decent wage and provide benefits to their workers," UAW's Wells said. He emphasized the UAW would work closely with Emerald executives and local and state officials to obtain state and/or federal funding for any specialized training programs that might be needed.

Why is a British auto firm building a manufacturing plant in the U.S. when its initial market is the United Kingdom and Europe? First, because most components will be American-made, Heaton said, particularly "the battery packs and engines." That's more good news for U.S. workers.
Secondly, she cited the potential of ultimately selling over a half million vehicles of this size in the U.S. market as compared to the overall potential market of 400,000 vehicles in Europe.

"We're thrilled with the kind of cooperation we've had from organized labor, not only on this project, but generally on every economic development effort we've been making at the RCGA," said Dick Fleming, president/CEO of the St. Louis area's Regional Chamber & Growth Association.
Fleming said labor's involvement in the effort to attract the auto builder began when he asked Aboussie, who is also an RCGA board member, for help in moving this project forward when it first came to light months ago.

"The next day, we had a meeting with the United Auto Workers leadership, and we were off and running," Fleming told the Labor Tribune. "We have a distinctive advantage in economic development here because the labor unions and their leadership are so strongly committed to working with the business community to help existing businesses expand, or recruiting new businesses."
"In the end, it's about putting a lot of talented unemployed or underemployed auto workers initially, and hundreds of others, back on their feet and into good paying jobs," Fleming added. "Labor has been a cooperative partner all along in these efforts," Fleming said, noting cooperation of many other unions, and especially the locals of the Sheet Metal Workers, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters.

Governments are providing $10 million in economic incentives for the plant. Half comes from the British government - the Royal Mail will be the first prime customer for the plant's vans - and half from the city of Hazelwood and a state economic development body, combined.

Aboussie also noted construction of the auto plant "will mean hundreds of thousands of man hours of work for our construction trades, to say nothing of the thousands more" as suppliers for Emerald erect their own plants. "And Emerald is on the cutting edge of green technology, so it can see massive expansion in the future, creating more construction and technology jobs.

"This is yet another major example of how organized labor here works with industry and government to benefit the entire community to produce real jobs," he pointed out. "And second, it's a clear indication that manufacturing companies want to locate in Missouri. That gives the 'big lie' to those Republicans who say that Missouri needs a phony 'right-to-work for less' law in order to compete with other states to attract more manufacturing business."

"They had 25 other potential sites, but they picked Missouri!" Aboussie said proudly.

 

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