Union vote clears way for GM Wentzville expansion

WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) — General Motors can move forward on a proposed $380 million expansion of its plant in the St. Louis-area town of Wentzville, now that a union has approved local work rules for the plant.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/obNHqz) reports that members of United Auto Workers Local 2250 approved the four-year local work rules contract on Thursday.

GM has said the expansion will create up to 1,850 jobs for the region. GM plans to build a new mid-size pickup at Wentzville as part of the expansion. The company already makes GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express vans in Wentzville.

The move comes in the midst of an economic downturn and at a time when the once robust auto industry in St. Louis has all but dried up. Chrysler closed two plants in Fenton in 2008 and 2009, and Ford shut down a plant in Hazelwood in 2006.

"This is one of the biggest economic stories in the last 10 to 15 years because it comes from an industry that has had its share of obstacles," said Greg Prestemon, president and chief executive of the St. Charles Economic Development Center.

About 82 percent production workers with Local 2250, which represents 1,196 hourly workers at the Wentzville GM plant, approved the four-year local work rules contract, which included rules on transfers and job classifications. Around 61 percent of skilled workers gave their approval.

"We've done everything we can do," Tom Brune, UAW communications coordinator for Local 2250, said. "Everyone here has stepped forward to do everything they can to secure a new product."

It was the last vote necessary for the expansion to proceed. Last week, nearly 83 percent of the Local 2250's members voted to ratify a national contract between the UAW and GM. The contract, approved nationally, included a promise to add at least 5,100 jobs, including the 1,850 jobs in Wentzville.

At least 450 of those new jobs will come from the addition of a second production shift, which will start early next year. Workers for the second shift will start to receive training within a month, GM spokesman Greg Martin said.

Analysts speculate GM will produce the next generation Colorado pickup in Wentzville. The pickup is now built in Shreveport, La., but that plant is scheduled to close.

The city of Wentzville approved partial tax abatement in September for a 500,000-square-foot addition to the plant and other improvements. GM is also seeking state incentives for job creation.

"We continue to have close discussions with GM about the expansion plans, and we are encouraged by their progress," Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement.

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