Opel union seeks talks over Bochum future after workers reject deal
FRANKFURT -- Opel union leaders are seeking talks over the future of the General Motors unit's Bochum, Germany, car factory after workers rejected a deal that would have saved more than a third of the jobs at the location.
Opel has said that the factory will end production at the end of 2014 instead of 2016 after 76 percent of union workers on Thursday voted against the automaker's offer to keep part of the facility open as a parts and logistics center, saving about 1,200 of the location's more than 3,000 jobs.
Bochum's branch of the IG Metall union is playing for high stakes. GM says the deal is now off the table and there won't be further contract negotiations but the factory's works council believes the early closure of Bochum will not be economic for the automaker.
Ending production at the end of 2014 "makes no sense because it will require high investments at a replacement plant," Bochum's works council said in a leaflet sent to employees.
Bochum's labor leader Rainer Einenkel wants talks with Opel's new CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann. "There must be further negotiations. This deal is not acceptable," he told the dpa news agency on Friday.
Originally, GM planned to end production at Bochum when the Zafira Tourer minivan, the factory's only production vehicle, is replaced in 2016.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the CAR auto industry think tank based in Duisburg, also said he believed GM would keep production of the Zafira in Bochum after 2014 on cost grounds. He said terminating the model completely would leave a hole in the brand's lineup.
"Everybody was aware that the workers wouldn't agree to this deal. It is really stupid to ask people to agree to the termination of their own jobs," he told Automotive News Europe.
Bochum will build 42,000 units of the Zafira this year, according to the works council.
Steve Girsky, GM vice chairman and chairman of Opel supervisory board, told reporters in Detroit on Thursday that Bochum's closure in 2014 "may cost us more in the near-term but it may help us in the intermediate term because car production will end early."
Knut Giesler, regional chief for the IG Metall union in North Rhine-Westphalia, said in a statement: ''I see this result as a clear vote of no confidence against Opel management. Too many mistakes, too many false promises over the past eight years, that has made its mark.''
North Rhine-Westphalia's Economics Minister Garrelt Duin told reporters on Friday that IG Metall trade union leaders are stepping up their efforts to bring Opel management back to the negotiating table.
Three of GM's German plants have already approved a wider labor agreement that guarantees the jobs of more than 20,000 German workers in exchange for a wage freeze through 2015. Union workers at Opel factories in Ruesselsheim, Kaiserslautern and Dudenhofen voted with majorities exceeding 83 percent to accept the reorganization agreement.
Bochum's rejection of GM's restructuring deal will not threaten agreements with those plants, German press reports said.
GM lost $1.8 billion in Europe last year. The automaker aims to return to break-even in Europe by mid-decade through cutting costs and increasing revenue with 23 new or refreshed Opel products by 2016.
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