Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MP Susan Truppe is being silly

MP Susan Truppe refused to stand with the locked out London workers.

Saw a tweet calling attention to a survey posted by MP Susan Truppe. The tweet called the survey silly. Truppe defended her survey tweeting back, "I don't see how its silly to ask if constituents feel its important or not."

Once attracted to her site, I noticed the MP had posted a statement on the labour dispute at Electro-Motive Diesel.Talk about silly. Why quibble over a survey when you've got a messed up statement clearly showing that the MP doesn't know much about the EMD operation in London.

She tells us, "It is important to note that, since the 1930’s, the EMD plant has been under American ownership." Huh? EMD is an American company and always has been. It was incorporated in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922 and bought by General Motors Corporation in late 1930. There was no facility in London until 1950 when GM opened the London EMD branch plant.

The EMD story gets interesting, with a strong feeling of deja vue, when we get to 1993. Read part of the story carried by the Chicago Tribune at the time.

"World's Largest Locomotive Builders" reads the sign outside the United Auto Workers Local 719 in southwest suburban La Grange. For more than 50 years, workers at the massive General Motors Corp. Electro-Motive Division plant down the street could claim the title without controversy.

Then last month the last two blue, orange and black diesel locomotives rolled out of the plant and into service for Metra, the Chicago area commuter rail system. The sign became a depressing reminder of past glories.

Only a dozen years ago, the sprawling, 3.6-million-square-foot factory was filled with the clang of metal presses, the hiss of welders, the cacophony of 13,000 skilled workers, and celebratory bell-ringing as they finished each of up to six locomotives a day. These 180-ton, 3,800-horsepower machines selling for more than $1 million apiece were not only industrial behemoths but also computerized, precision-finished, high-tech products.

Now fewer than 3,000 people are on the rolls, including 1,600 active production workers. The main bay where locomotives were assembled, a vast work space covering several football fields and rising nearly six stories, stands empty and silent like an abandoned cathedral.

The remaining workers still build diesel engines and components for locomotives that Electro-Motive now assembles at its Canadian factory. But management is busy shrinking the plant's size and work force and sending work to outside contractors.

It is also shrinking the hopes of union leaders who gambled on working with General Motors to save the plant."

The work that was shifted to London about two decades ago has now been reclaimed.

MP Susan Truppe wrote, "I remain hopeful that both the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and EMD can return to the bargaining table and find an amicable solution as soon as possible." This isn't just silly, it's insulting.

London has been losing its grip on the production of EMD locomotives for years. As early as 2000 at least, in order to meet the delivery schedule for 1,000 SD70Ms for Union Pacific, EMD spread workload among:
  • GMLG in London, Ontario, Canada (assembly and paint)
  • Bombardier-Concarril, Sahagun, Mexico (assembly and paint)
  • SuperSteel Schenectady, Inc. (SSSI), Glenville, N.Y. (assembly and paint)
  • Alstom at Hornell, N.Y. (final finishing and final paint, after assembly by SSI)

Long before Caterpillar entered the picture, EMD was one tough employer. Despite union efforts to prove the La Grange workers could compete, the workforce continued to shrink even after locomotive assembly went to London. The union worked hard for a year and a half to meet a company production goal for electrical coils, after the goals were met, the company shipped the production out anyway.

The move to open a new assembly plant in the States was underway while EMD was still under the control of the private equity groups. When Muncie opened last October, the writing was on the wall. Muncie was closer to suppliers, 50 percent larger and somewhat more modern than London. Assembly in Indiana skirts currency risk and the new workers are non-union. They will work for working-poor wages.

MP Truppe may have believed CAT would return to the bargaining table, but maybe Truppe also believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. The last two beliefs are not as silly as the first.

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