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Lear Considers Closing Auburn Hills Seat Plant

Auto supplier Lear Corp. says it might in May close a seat-making plant in Auburn Hills, Mich., that employs about 325. Lear sent a letter this month warning the State of Michigan that the plant will close, but a spokesperson said its fate depends on UAW talks.

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by Jeffrey McCracken
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

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SOUTHFIELD, MI — Auto supplier Lear Corp. says it might in May close a seat-making plant in Auburn Hills, Mich., that employs about 325. Lear sent a letter this month warning the State of Michigan that the plant will close, but a spokesperson said its fate depends on UAW talks.

The Auburn Hills plant makes seats for the Buick LeSabre and Buick Park Avenue sedans, which are assembled at General Motors Corp.’s Orion Township plant. Lear does not have the seating contract for the next vehicle at Orion, the Pontiac G6 sedan that goes into production this summer.

The Auburn Hills site is the third Michigan plant Lear has said could be closed. The two other Lear plants, which employ about 1,150, are both near Grand Rapids, Mich., and could be merged, eliminating hundreds of jobs.

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All three Lear plants have UAW contracts that expire in May. Lear says their future depends on the outcome of the contract talks. Southfield, Mich.-based Lear is one of the largest makers of auto seats, instrument panels and other interior parts.

The situation at Lear has alarmed Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office, which has contacted Lear about possible tax credits and other incentives. Michigan has lost 175,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000.

UAW assembly workers at Auburn Hills make on average $24 an hour, compared to $14-$18 an hour at most Lear plants. Auburn Hills workers make more because they previously had been part of Troy, Mich.-based Delphi Corp., the world’s largest auto-parts supplier, which pays its workers more than Lear.

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Lear Human Resource Manager Kim Van Sickle sent a letter to Michigan, Auburn Hills and the UAW saying Lear intends to close the plant May 2.

The letter says there are 308 hourly workers and 17 salaried. It says the workers are represented by UAW Local 5960.

Lear spokeswoman Andrea Puchalsky said the plant might not necessarily close, but it depends on how labor talks go.

“The situation in Auburn Hills is similar to that in Grand Rapids. There are a whole host of possibilities, a variety of scenarios,” she said.

Puchalsky said UAW talks in Auburn Hills will begin next month.

When there is the possibility of large-scale layoffs, an employer must give the state 60 days’ notice under the Workforce Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN) of 1988.

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Labor experts say these WARN notices, as they are called, are often used to give a company leverage as they had into labor bargaining.

Copyright 2004 Detroit Free Press All Rights Reserved.

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