General Motors said Wednesday that it plans to reinstate the second shift at its Van Nuys assembly plant on March 14, ending the need for a controversial work-sharing program that the plant's 3,800 hourly workers approved only two weeks ago.
The change at Van Nuys was part of a broader announcement by GM that it would boost production at four plants--affecting a total of 12,850 workers--in order to build 175,000 additional vehicles through the rest of 1988.
GM's Framingham, Mass., plant, which closed last Nov. 30, will reopen May 9. GM also plans to add second shifts at facilities in Lansing, Mich., and Oshawa, Ontario. Those two plants had been operating on split-shift programs similar to the one in Van Nuys.
The production boost at Van Nuys represented a sudden turnaround by GM. Two months ago, the company said slow sales of Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds, the cars built in Van Nuys, would force it to cut back to one shift from two, and to lay off about half of the plant's workers indefinitely.
To avoid the layoffs, GM and the United Auto Workers Local 645 negotiated an alternative proposal under which the workers would split the remaining shift. Each employee would work two weeks, then take two weeks off.
GM said Wednesday that rising demand for its cars and trucks, spurred in part by rebates and other financial incentives, prompted the company to increase production. GM also announced that its overall car sales for the Jan. 1-Feb. 20 period of this year were up 12.8% from a year earlier.
Bob Colletta, a 23-year veteran of the Van Nuys plant, said that although he was pleased by GM's plan to restore the second shift, he was confused by the auto maker's recent actions.
Referring to GM's cutback of production in Van Nuys only two weeks ago, Colletta said: "Why did they do it in the first place and for that amount of time? I don't understand what they're doing."
He was not alone. "I'm puzzled," said Christopher Cedergren, senior automotive analyst with J.D. Power & Associates, a research firm in Westlake Village. "I think it's a little bit premature to be adding a second shift" in light of GM's big supply of Camaros and Firebirds, he said.
Cedergren speculated that GM might be planning a major price cut for the Camaro and Firebird later this year "that would broaden the market appeal and the volume" of those models, thus requiring the added production. The cars cost between $12,000 and $18,000, depending on the features ordered, he said.
Local UAW officials, meanwhile, did not return telephone calls requesting comment.
The split-shift plan currently in effect had deeply divided the Van Nuys workers. Many workers with seniority, and the most protection against losing their jobs in a traditional layoff, objected to being idled every two weeks. Conversely, younger workers with less seniority embraced the split-shift idea in order to work at least part of the time.
When the workers voted on the plan Jan. 23, it lost by eight votes out of 2,636 cast. But after some UAW members protested the way in which the voting was conducted, a second vote was taken Feb. 9 and the proposal passed by 247 votes out of 3,583 cast.