Modesto Toyota dealer picketed

Fremont workers protest plant closure

02/22/2010 4:56 AM

02/22/2010 4:19 PM

The impending closure of Fremont's New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant could be seen more than 70 miles away in Modesto on Sunday.

Several NUMMI workers picketed the Toyota dealership on McHenry Avenue, holding up a banner that said "Toyota Killing California Jobs" and handing out fliers to customers.

Toyota is ending production at the plant March 31, leaving about 4,500 autoworkers without jobs, including 300 in Stanislaus County and 900 in San Joaquin County.

"We are not telling people not to buy Toyota products," said NUMMI worker Jose Hernandez, a Ceres resident and one of Sunday's protesters. "We're telling people that Toyota needs to be a responsible corporation and keep jobs in California."

The United Auto Workers union kicked off its campaign of rolling protests at Toyota dealerships with a Feb. 12 rally at the NUMMI plant. The UAW hopes to pressure Toyota into reversing its decision.

Hernandez, who said he is the UAW coordinator for the protests in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, said protests were held over the weekend at the Toyota dealerships in Stockton and Tracy. He said more than 30 dealer protests across the state were planned over the weekend.

Hernandez said about two dozen local NUMMI workers along with other union workers protested at the three valley dealerships.

A man who answered the phone at Modesto Toyota on Sunday said no one from the dealership would comment.

But Toyota spokesman Mike Michels told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month that the company was "disappointed" by the picketing plans "because the decision about NUMMI was one without a choice."

NUMMI was started in 1984 as a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors to produce cars and trucks for both automakers. GM -- which has emerged as a smaller company after bankruptcy -- pulled out of the partnership last year and stopped producing Pontiac Vibes at the plant.

Toyota's pullout from NUMMI will reverberate throughout the Northern San Joa- quin Valley. Ten of the plant's primary suppliers are in San Joaquin County, with one each in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

Earlier this month, Trim Masters Inc. in Modesto announced that it would lay off its 186 employees when NUMMI closes. The company supplies interior door panels for Toyota Tacomas produced at the plant.

Hernandez, 40, said he has worked on the Fremont plant's assembly line for 10 years. He said assembly line jobs pay $60,000 a year and as much as $70,000 with overtime.

"Toyota has operated the NUMMI plant since 1984," he said. "We've given them nothing but 25 years of quantity and quality. ... We want to give them another 25 years."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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