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GM: High hopes for new Buick Verano in Orion



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General Motors North America President Mark Reuss presents UAW 5960 President Pat Sweeney with a framed photograph of the Buick Verano at last week's event. (click for larger version)
October 13, 2010 - Crews working to retool the General Motors Orion Assembly plant said returning workers won't recognize the place when they return to the job in months ahead.

The plant was gutted, floor to ceiling, after most of the workforce was laid off and the last car rolled off the line.

But engineers, electricians and others have worked to redesign and rebuild the more than four-million square-foot plant into a more eco-friendly, efficient operation.

And they're making progress, officials said last Thursday as representatives from media outlets far and wide converged on the plant for a look inside, and to hear from automaker executives, local politicians, UAW leaders and other who spoke about plans to build the Buick Verano, which is scheduled for a 2012 launch, in Orion Township.

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The Verano, an upscale version of the Chevrolet Cruze, will be the first compact car Buick sends to market in more than 20 years.

General Motors North America President Mark Reuss told the crowd Thursday it was "somewhat of an emotional day" as he returned to the plant where he began his career with GM, programming robots and launching body shops in Orion.

GM, Reuss said, will invest $145 million in the process and recall some 1,550 hourly and salaried workers.

"This is the type of place we want to start making small cars in America, in Michigan, for profit once again," Reuss said, evoking cheers from the crowd.

"The Verano...is very significant and very important, especially when you look at the way America is beginning to buy cars a little bit different than the way they did in the past; cars that are fuel efficient, beautiful - a little smaller but just as elegant and high quality as the bigger, more expensive cars."

For some, the good news was tempered with reports of a new labor agreement that could slice in half the hourly wages of some of the plant's longtime union workers as Reuss talked about "agreements for employment that look to the future."

It's the first time the union has agreed to a pay cut for workers - although union members did not get a vote on the matter - who are not new hires.

The new agreement, specific to the Orion plant, stipulates that 60 percent of returning workers will make traditional UAW wages of around $29 an hour while 40 percent will be paid about $15 an hour.

If enough laid-off workers dont return to fill the lower-paying jobs, the automaker can hire new people for $15.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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