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US Peculiar steel beam marks last days at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant

23:20  21 february  2020
23:20  21 february  2020 Source:   freep.com

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Detroit / Hamtramck Assembly is a General Motors ( GM ) automobile assembly plant straddling the border between Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan.

Dnitra Landon, a GM Detroit - Hamtramck Assembly worker, talks before the start of her shift about her Monument to a new era in Detroit, Michigan - The first steel placed for the new General Motors plant Critics had long claimed that GM ' s Hamtramck plant never delivered the jobs and economic

Among the thousands of steel beams inside General Motors' 4.1-million-square-foot Detroit-Hamtramck plant, one is particularly intriguing.

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Reaction to General Motors ' announcement that it would close a plant that replaced a Polish neighborhood Duggan noted later in the day during an unrelated news conference that “we’re not giving up” on GM Detroit - Hamtramck is not the only plant in metro Detroit that GM plans to close.

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It sits about 7 feet above the internal combustion engine assembly area. To a casual observer, it's just another yellow-painted beam.

But look closer. Scribbled in marker across thick pieces of masking tape is a collection of random names and numbers: Hollywood 2-14-19, Mike 2-21-19, Curt 3-23-14, T 2-19-14,  Rashe 7-16-15.

Workers who have either retired or transferred to different General Motors plants left their marks on a yellow beam in the area where 2020 Chevrolet Impala engines and transmissions are married together on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 inside the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. The Impala is nearing its end of production as the plant is being retooled and fitted for electric vehicles. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Workers who have either retired or transferred to different General Motors plants left their marks on a yellow beam in the area where 2020 Chevrolet Impala engines and transmissions are married together on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 inside the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. The Impala is nearing its end of production as the plant is being retooled and fitted for electric vehicles.

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Detroit — Workers at General Motors ' Detroit Hamtramck Assembly will be offered jobs at other plants beginning in January as the company retools the GM has not said what specific products will be built at the plant . LMC Automotive, an auto industry forecast company, has confirmed that GM will

(Photo: Detroit News file). General Motors Co. is extending production of the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala at its Detroit - Hamtramck Assembly Plant until January GM President Mark Reuss said at an investor day earlier this year that Cadillac still needed a flagship like the CT6, which is the

To name a few.

A manager didn't know what it meant, hadn't really noticed it before. But ask hourly workers and they know of it — and what it means.

"Hollywood, he transferred to Flint in February," said Mike Plater, chairman of the UAW Local 22. "And, T, he retired."

"Those are the people who worked there and left their mark on those dates," said Gary Henrion, an electrician at Detroit-Hamtramck.

The beam is a testament to the workers' ties to the plant. It also represents change. There's been a lot of change at the 35-year-old factory since November 2018 when GM said it would close Detroit-Hamtramck for good and soon began transferring hundreds of workers to its other plants, including Flint Assembly.

But last fall, Detroit-Hamtramck, which GM calls D-Ham, got a reprieve in the 2019 UAW contract talks. GM will invest $2.2 billion to build all-electric vehicles there.

Here is a look at the final days inside the factory as it bids farewell to one era and ushers in a new, all-electric one. For the more than 800 hourly workers in the factory, it's bittersweet. They look forward to a future, yet leave their mark on the past.

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DETROIT – It' s a somber holiday season for the thousands of General Motors workers who could possibly lose their jobs. There is expected to be 664 job cuts at the Detroit - Hamtramck Assembly plant . Thursday afternoon a crowd gathered for what the UAW called a "vigil for our families.".

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End of the ICE

On Thursday, the body shell for the last Chevrolet Impala inched through the assembly line toward final production. As it did, several employees gathered around the car, snapping pictures as workers added the hood and it moved closer toward the annals of history.

The car is expected to roll off the line by Feb. 28. GM will then shut down the conveyor belt and sliding skillet and the manufacturing of internal combustion engines at Detroit-Hamtramck will be over. GM built the last Cadillac CT6 sedan at the plant on Jan. 24.

a group of people standing next to a car: Gregory Edwards, 64, of Detroit takes pictures of the very last 2020 Chevrolet Impala that was making its way down the production line on Thursday inside Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Gregory Edwards, 64, of Detroit takes pictures of the very last 2020 Chevrolet Impala that was making its way down the production line on Thursday inside Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.

GM will spend the next 12-18 months ripping out the innards of the facility to reconfigure it into one of the company's most state-of-the-art factories in North America. When it's at full capacity, GM expects to employ 2,200 people there.

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GM refers to the process of preparing employees and a plant to build a new vehicle as "changeover." For a model year change, the process is simple: changing out material and minor adjustments to work stations, said Kim Crawford, GM spokeswoman.

But GM plans to build a GMC Hummer electric pickup for sale later next year and the self-driving Cruise Origin EV along with other new EVs at D-Ham, making the changeover process quite involved. It requires installation and testing of new equipment, setting up each work station and creating instructions for each job to ensure safety and quality, said Crawford.

Simplified systems

Nobody knows yet what the revamped plant will look like inside, but one thing is certain, the engine assembly area underneath that monikered steel beam will be gone.

All-electric vehicles have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. EVs use large traction battery packs to power the electric motor instead of gasoline.

Still, it's hard even for the cognoscenti to predict how the layout of D-Ham will change for EV production.

"It depends a lot on how they plan to build the new vehicles going in there," said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Navigant Research in Detroit. Abuelsamid is an expert on EV and AV production.

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a plane parked at a train station: A 2020 Chevrolet Impala still to be painted is moved on a hoist on the production line on Thursday at the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press A 2020 Chevrolet Impala still to be painted is moved on a hoist on the production line on Thursday at the GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant.

"The Cruise Origin and the Hummer pickup are radically different vehicles with different architectures and the Hummer will be substantially larger," said Abuelsamid. "While it’s certainly possible to build a flexible assembly system that can handle both, it might actually make more sense to have separate lines."

The assembly process for the Origin will likely be much simpler than that of the Hummer, he said. So a shorter, dedicated line for that vehicle makes sense.

"Even the Hummer line can be shorter than before since there will be fewer assembly steps without having to put in a fuel system and all the drivetrain components," said Abuelsamid. "The body and paint shops will also need to be heavily revamped and they will also have to figure out how to handle some very different bodies at the same time."

The plant will also likely have a battery assembly line where cells and modules are assembled into the packs before they go to final assembly. And, since D-Ham will be a battery-vehicle-only factory, some of the hazardous material handling for fuels and lubricants can be simplified, Abuelsamid said.

A plant where a neighborhood stood

GM opened the factory in 1985 and it has built about 4 million vehicles there since. It's had such nameplates as the Oldsmobile Toronado and Trofeo, Pontiac Bonneville, Buick LeSabre, the Cadillac Eldorado, DeVille and Seville and the Chevrolet Volt.

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The plant is sometimes called Poletown because GM built it on the site of a Polish immigrant community straddling the Detroit-Hamtramck border. In fact, the hulking facility spans the two cities. The body shop is in Hamtramck and the general assembly belongs to Detroit.

The fact that D-Ham will keep humming is significant given the sacrifice made for it to exist. The 300 acres D-Ham sits on was home to a Polish neighborhood with about 4,000 residents, more than 1,000 houses, several Catholic churches and more than 100 businesses. It all stood in the way of GM's plant and in a bold and hotly contested move, government leaders used eminent domain powers to seize and raze those properties on GM’s behalf.

It made national news and stirred up many protests included a nearly monthlong sit-in at the neighborhood's Immaculate Conception Church that police eventually broke up with arrests.

EV volume

D-Ham has capacity to build 160,000 vehicles, said Jeff Schuster, president of Americas Operations and Global Vehicle Forecasts for LMC Automotive. But LMC forecasts that the redesigned plant won't build close to that volume.

Last year, GM built 34,344 vehicles at the plant, Schuster said. LMC expects a slow volume ramp-up, with eventually six electric vehicle models to be built there.

A recently painted black 2020 Chevrolet Impala gets a clear coat applied to it by robots in the paint shop on Thursday at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press A recently painted black 2020 Chevrolet Impala gets a clear coat applied to it by robots in the paint shop on Thursday at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.

But given weak demand for electric cars and many new entries, Schuster said volume will be less than 25,000 in 2023 and around 50,000 by 2024.

If the Origin has much stronger fleet testing volume than LMC anticipates, Schuster said, production could be higher than 50,000.

GM declined to comment on the plant's future production, but spokesman Jim Cain said, "Any forecast is purely guesswork because we have yet to share the depth and breadth of our strategy to transform the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, fully leverage our EV expertise and scale, and accelerate our drive toward an all-electric future."

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Divided households

GM's big bet on EVs stirs up mixed emotions in D-Ham workers. They're excited, but apprehensive.

During the 40-day nationwide strike against GM last fall, the UAW not only secured a contract that kept D-Ham open, but also protected plant jobs during renovations. The workers will have employment within GM until the plant reopens, said Terry Dittes, UAW vice president of the GM department.

"For UAW members, Hamtramck, Detroit and the surrounding community, these negotiated product investments have created job security and a bright future for UAW Hamtramck members," said Dittes.

About 130 hourly workers will retire from the plant effective Feb. 29, said UAW Local 22's Plater.  There are also about 70 skilled-trades employees who will continue to work at D-Ham during GM's retooling process.

One of those is Clayton Jackson, 59, a millwright who works overnights repairing machinery. For him, the biggest adjustment will be switching to the day shift. But many of his colleagues remain anxious, he said.

"We don't know what to expect," said Jackson. "You're working in a plant that was intended to close, then you find out it's staying open. They haven't really mapped out the plan to us."

Gary Henrion, 47, is another skilled-trades worker. He is asking GM to transfer him to Flint Assembly. He and his wife moved to Holly, about 15 miles south of Flint, last year when she was transferred from D-Ham to Flint Assembly.

a person holding a bag of luggage: Gary Henrion, 47, of Holly on Tuesday inside Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. Henrion is a skilled trades electrician, who will have the opportunity to stay at the plant while its undergoes the retooling process. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Gary Henrion, 47, of Holly on Tuesday inside Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. Henrion is a skilled trades electrician, who will have the opportunity to stay at the plant while its undergoes the retooling process.

"I'm hoping I get the transfer," said Henrion, who has 23 years seniority with GM. "But I'm used to disappointment from GM. If I get to go to Flint, great. If not, I'll still make the 50-minute drive to D-Ham and I'll still have a job."

Like Henrion, most of the more than 600 general assembly workers are eagerly watching their email or Federal Express deliveries for word from GM on where their next assignment will be. GM is expected to start sending out offers, which are based on seniority, by the end of the month.

Most of the workers will get two options.

  • The full relocation package: A worker agrees to transfer to another GM plant permanently and receives up to $30,000 to relocate.
  • A transitional package: A worker agrees to transfer to another GM plant until Detroit-Hamtramck's upgrades are complete and the worker can return there. The worker would receive $5,000 for relocation costs.

Decision and indecision

Omar Guevara, 45, who has worked on the assembly line at D-Ham since 1997, knows what he wants to do.

"I'm not looking to come back, I've done my time here," said Guevara, whose job is to do quality checks. He works on the assembly line where the engine and transmission are married to the vehicle body.

Similar to Henrion, Guevara and his wife bought a home in Clio in October after she was transferred earlier in the year from D-Ham to Flint Assembly. Clio is about 10 miles north of Flint. So Guevara drives 90 minutes to D-Ham daily to work a 10-hour shift that starts at 6 A.M.

Guevara has asked to transfer to Flint and he is confident he'll get it because there are about 250 openings and he has high seniority. Also, "everybody here in the plant wants to go to Toledo (Powertrain) and Romulus (Engine) because they live in Detroit or Downriver. High seniority people are retiring and taking $60,000 to get out," he said, referring to a retirement package.

a man standing in front of a building: Omar Guevara, 45, of Clio on Tuesday at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Omar Guevara, 45, of Clio on Tuesday at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.

But the money isn't enough to force a decision for some. Bernie DeVold, 67, is a quality inspector on the assembly line. His job is to check the exterior for flaws and make sure it fits together before the tires go on.

DeVold has worked for GM for 39 years. Just 10 days before D-Ham was set to be idled, DeVold was undecided on whether to retire or taking a transfer.

"This is the best plant I've ever worked at," said DeVold. "The people are great and management here is great."

Together again

The plant, which about 20 years ago had more than 3,500 workers, Henrion said, only has a few hundred working day shift now.

The floor was busy, but sedate. The machines hummed, interrupted periodically by a cacophony of artificial tunes echoing lullaby-like chimes to the theme from Star Wars and everything in between. The songs sound any time a worker pulls a yellow cord above the line seeking a supervisor. Each line has its own unique tune so the supervisor knows where to go.

And each line is populated with people who've worked together for so long and so closely that many consider each other family. That's what makes the end of production for internal combustion engine vehicles so bittersweet, said Local 22's Plater.

"It's good that the plant will stay open and it'll blossom. But, at the same time, people have to go somewhere else and that's a strain for them," Plater said.

Plater will stay at D-Ham, where he has worked for 18 years, during the retooling period. But he said he is sad to see his members leave, admitting, "I'll miss them."

"When it reopens, there'll be a lot of different people," said Plater, after discussing the yellow steel beam sporting the names and dates of those who've passed through the plant over the years. "It's like a family here. I'm hoping they choose to come back and we can all be together again."

Contact Jamie L. LaReau: 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Peculiar steel beam marks last days at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant

Police: Man robs 4 people in Detroit he met on dating apps .
The man robbed five men ranging from 19 to 36 years old on the Detroit's west side between Dec. 19 to Feb. 17, police said.The Detroit Police Department is trying to identify and locate a man wanted in connection with several armed robberies in which he used online dating apps to target his victims.

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