Blue ribbon panel meets over NUMMI closure

by David Louie , ABC Channel 7

FREMONT, CA (KGO) — They are hanging on by their fingernails, holding on to what seems to be false hope, but Wednesday there was a fresh attempt to convince Toyota to keep open the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont.

Sergio Santos has a deeply personal reason why he is fighting to keep NUMMI open; he is president of the union representing most of the NUMMI workers and he knows the pain of a plant closing.

Santos’ father worked at the old Chevy plant in Fremont, where the last car came off the line in 1982.  

Brother in college, my father comes out the following day and tells me, ‘Son, you’ve got to go to work, I’m not going to be able to afford you to go to school,’" Santos said. "It’s hard to make ends meet. We later lost our house."

He told the story to a blue ribbon panel created by state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

"A key goal for the commission is to have Toyota defer the decision on the future of the plant for at least two years when the auto market is more stable, when the state of California is more secure," Lockyer said.

The commission is in fact-finding mode to create a business plan it hopes will convince Toyota NUMMI can be a profitable operation.

It has found the toll on the local economy will be staggering.

It is estimated it will cost $2.3 billion to create replacement jobs, $510 million in lost wages and benefits by NUMMI workers and $1.4 billion in lost wages and benefits by suppliers.

Even with 36 days left before the scheduled shutdown, Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California, thinks Toyota can do something positive.

"One way it can repair its relationship with consumers would be to say, ‘We’re going to keep the good, successful, high-quality plant open,’ and I think then consumers will feel a little bit better," he said.

No one from NUMMI attended the hearing. A company spokesperson later re-iterated plans to end production March 31.

Once the report is issued next week in Sacramento, a select group of the commission plans to go to Japan and meet with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to press their case.