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Unions Target Weakened Toyota

Washington demonstration planned for Thursday.

by on Jan.27, 2010

Plans to close a California plant building this model, the Matrix, along with recent recalls, will have union members out demonstrating against Toyota on Thursday.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Auto Workers Union are taking aim at Toyota Motor Corp. while it is reeling from the fallout of its decision to suspend sales of eight of its most popular models due to a safety defect.

Teamster president James P. Hoffa and UAW vice president Bob King will lead a delegation of labor representatives, environmental advocates and consumer protection advocates in a protest outside the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

The union leaders also plan to deliver a letter to embassy offiicials for Japanese Minister Yukio Hatoyama.  The letter will express concern that Toyota’s plan to shut a plant in California will ultimately hurt America’s perception of Japan.  It calls on the Japanese government to meet with union representatives and with Toyota management, Teamster and UAW officials said. The facility, known as NUMMI,and located outside San Francisco, has been Toyota’s only unionized plant in the U.S.

“After receiving millions in the taxpayer-funded Cash for Clunkers bailout, Toyota plans to close its New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) assembly plant in Fremont, CA, which will mean a loss of 5,400 direct jobs and up to 50,000 jobs at suppliers and other supporting businesses. This would be the biggest factory layoff in California since the beginning of the recession,” union officials said in a statement.

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Environmental advocates at the event will express their disappointment that Toyota, a company that markets itself as a leader in emissions reduction, will greatly expand its carbon footprint by shipping vehicles once made at NUMMI back to the U.S. from Japanese plants.

The unions also are raising questions about the quality of Toyota’s management in the face of the unfolding difficulties.

“Toyota’s management decisions come at a time of much concern about the company, which had more recalls than any other auto maker in 2009 and has just halted production and sales of 8 models until its spontaneous acceleration problem is resolved,” the union officlals noted.

The demonstration also will provide a platform for Sean Kane, founder of Safety Research & Strategies and the Vehicle Safety Information Resource Center, and a persistent critic of Toyota’s handling of the spontaneous acceleration issue.

The Japanese maker did line up some backing, however.  The National Automobile Dealers Association issued a statement offering tentative support for Toyota’s decision to suspend sales of some models, saying, “Toyota is doing the right thing. The safety of the customer is of paramount concern. Toyota has a reputation for resolving problems quickly. We certainly hope that’s the case in this situation as well.”

Preliminary estimates suggest that American Toyota dealers will collectively lose about 4,000 sales daily which, considering the average cost of a vehicle in the U.S., should add up to lost revenues of more than $100 million per day.

“This is creating a very difficult situation for dealers, in an already tough market,” the trade organization continued, adding that it, “is working with Toyota to identify a plan to help get dealers through this. In the meantime, we are encouraging Toyota dealers to check to see if they have business interruption insurance that might help them weather this crisis.”

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