Sep 27 1:00 PM

What works: In Flint, GM’s oldest American plant keeps on trucking

America Tonight

For the first time since General Motors emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, the company has announced a new model truck to be produced at the Flint Assembly plant in Michigan.

The 3.7-million square foot facility is General Motors’ oldest manufacturing plant in the United States. Despite decades of factory closures that eliminated tens of thousands of jobs from the city, the Flint Assembly plant continues to thrive.

It survived 17 of GM’s plant closures around the country in recent years.

Instead of fretting about their future, Flint Assembly workers say they’re confident they’ve developed a successful formula that will keep the plant open for years to come. For the past two years, trucks made at the plant have received honors from J.D. Power and Associates for highest initial quality.

The company invested nearly $330 million preparing Flint Assembly for production of the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickup trucks, which are built with increased towing and hauling capability and improved safety features, according to Tom Wickham, a GM spokesman for the Flint area.

America Tonight went inside the plant to see what works inside the facility. Union workers and management suggested their collaborative and cooperative relationship has helped them succeed in their quest to build quality trucks that American people would want to buy.

Not taking things for granted

Lori Jane Gliha on the floor of GM's Flint Assembly plant

D’Andre Jackson works as a team leader during the first shift at Flint Assembly. He works in the Body Marriage area of the truck plant, where the chassis meets the cab and the box of the truck. 

“Basically, my job is to ensure the operators are following standardized work,” he said. “I’m a go between – between my supervisor and my team.”

Jackson said the relationship between the union and the management changed after General Motors declared bankruptcy. Everyone at the plant had a renewed sense of appreciation for their jobs after watching so many other plants close in recent years, he said.

“I think the biggest change is the sense of urgency to be better,” he said. “We don’t take anything for granted anymore,” he added.

There are nearly 3,000 employees inside the plant.

Jackson said every worker plays an important role within the factory, as nearly 700 trucks roll off the line in a 24-hour period. 

“If the guy down the line from me doesn’t do his job, I can’t do mine,” he said. “If I don’t do mine, the next guy can’t do his.”

The silver bullet

“What works in this plant is the fact that we work together. It is 100 percent the secret to our success,” said Amy Farmer, the Flint Assembly Complex Director. “If there was one silver bullet, that’s it,” she said.

Barry Campbell, the chairman of Flint’s UAW Local 598 agreed the quality of the trucks improved with the improvement of the relationship between management and the union.

“We’re all engaged, not just General Motors or UAW,” he said. “We got two hands together that are engaged in what we do – giving the direction out here on how we’re going to be successful, and I think that’s how we have to survive,” he said.

“I like being able to talk with management,” Jackson said. “They really let the team leaders be actively involved in coming up with new ideas to make a better truck,” he said.

Jackson, like every worker, also has the ability to stop a section of the assembly line to improve the production.

“If I see something that’s not right, we have the ability to stop the line and call a manager over and say, ‘Hey! Check this out!’ Some things can be written up and fixed, but some things you have to stop to contain it.”

Jackson said he’s looking forward to a bright future and hopes General Motors continues to invest in his home city. 

“Having a Flint without a GM is a no-Flint,” he said. “I hope GM recognizes that and decides to grow some more.”


Auto Industry, Unions

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