Auto industry needs 190K more jobs, most of them in Michigan, analysts say

Posted on November 30, 2011

The rebounding auto industry will need to add about 190,000 jobs by 2015, analysts projected at a Tuesday conference.

Most of the employees will be in the parts sector, said experts from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, and the majority will be employed in Michigan.

U.S. auto employment is about 590,000 including 130,000 in Michigan, said Kristin Dziczek, the center’s labor expert. Employment will grow to about 756,800 in four years, the center said.

About 52 percent of U.S. autoworkers are in Michigan, which will increase to two-thirds by 2015, Dziczek said in an analysis of the labor agreements between the United Auto Workers and General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.

The four-year contracts have been lauded for keeping Big Three labor costs competitive with foreign automakers while committing to plants and jobs.

“Overall they held the line on costs and put more money in workers’ pockets,” Dziczek said.

Next year, the center estimates that U.S. auto employment will increase by 60,000.

Dziczek said about 30,000 additional jobs are for GM, Ford and Chrysler, which are expected to employ about 201,000 in the United States in four years, including 135,000 in Michigan.

Suppliers will need about 150,000 workers to handle demand if annual U.S. sales return to 15 million in four years, the center said.

Top suppliers are operating at 90 percent capacity already, and shortages in production are looming, said David Andrea, vice president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association.

There also will be an increase of 12,000 salaried workers in the industry, but with a twist.

“Salaried labor costs could exceed hourly next year — a real flip-flop,” said Sean McAlinden, CAR’s chief economist.

Detroit’s labor costs — wages and benefits — were $78 an hour on average in 2007, said labor consultant Art Schwartz.

Today, Ford is at $58 an hour in the U.S.; GM, $56; Toyota Motor Corp., $55; Chrysler, $52; Honda Motor Co., $50; Nissan Motor Co., $47; Hyundai Motor Co., $44; and Volkswagen AG, $38, according to CAR’s figures.

Four years from now, those figures won’t edge much higher. The projections are Ford at $61 an hour in total costs; GM, $60; Toyota, $56; Chrysler, $54; Honda, $52; Nissan, $49; Hyundai, $46; and Volkswagen, at $40.

The UAW still wants to organize transplants but President Bob King has yet to pick a target. Past attempts to organize Nissan and Honda plants failed.

King is “still swimming upstream,” Schwartz said.

None of King’s actions in the Big Three talks hurt his efforts to organize a Japanese, German or South Korean automaker, Schwartz said. “He acted statesmanlike,” he said. “The problem is there is nothing he could have done to make himself more attractive to the transplants.”

Sympathy for Japanese automakers hit by earthquake, tsunami and floods eliminated Toyota, Honda and Nissan as targets, Schwartz said.

They were a tough sell anyway with good safety, quality and productivity, leaving little a union can add, he said.

That leaves South Korean and German sites as candidates.

But McAlinden said the Japanese companies, in a downturn for the first time, could benefit from a union. UAW contracts lay out rules for transferring workers between plants and compensation during temporary layoffs.

When GM has a temporary shutdown, workers get unemployment insurance and the company pays about $370 a week to top it up, he said.

Honda and Toyota keep idled workers on the payroll at a cost of about $1,500 a week, said McAlinden. “If they had a union, they wouldn’t be paying that,” he said.

Alissa Priddle, Detroit News