chapter  11
‘A Trojan Horse in Our Midst’: The Saturn Plant and the Disorganization of Autoworkers in the US
Pages 15

The Saturn automobile factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee was idled during GM’s bankruptcy reorganization in 2009. The decision to temporarily shutter the plant was part of the restructuring plan presided over by the US government after it put up tens of billions of dollars in loans and cash and became the majority stakeholder in the company. By the time of the bankruptcy, fewer than 3,000 people worked at the Spring Hill facility. Most of the 7,200 union autoworkers employed there just a decade earlier had taken buyout packages or transferred to other GM plants in the intervening years, as Saturn sales dropped off, Spring Hill lost bids for new products and the plant bled jobs. In 2011, GM finally made public its plans to assemble a Chevrolet model and employ 1,800 people in Spring Hill; 400-500 in a first round of hiring, the rest later. But the majority of those who moved to Tennessee in the 1980s-90s to work at Saturn had already left the area. The facility would therefore reopen with new GM employees, in entry-level jobs. Significantly, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) contract signed in the wake of GM’s bankruptcy permitted newly hired workers to be paid roughly half of what veteran workers earn (New York Times, July 12, 2011 and November 11, 2011, The Tennessean, Dec. 29, 2011).2 Spring Hill would thus offer a compensation packet to union autoworkers equivalent to that paid to nonunion workers in Nissan, Honda, and Toyota plants in nearby, southern locations.