LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – As day 19 of the UAW strike came to a close Wednesday, former Lansing Mayor David Hollister shared the struggle to keep GM in Lansing.
The mayor, now 81, served as the city’s chief executive from 1994 until 2003 – when he left to join the cabinet of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. But he was still getting his footing in the office when he was provided what he called was a “good news, bad news” scenario.
The good news was GM was planning to build the new Oldsmobile Alero in Lansing. The bad news? Production on the car would end in 2004, and with it, the GM factory in Lansing.
“Do I try to head this off?” he says he thought as he faced the news. “In the past, never in the history of General Motors had a board decision made public and then reversed.”
But Hollister did what he did best – he built a coalition. He called it the “Blue Ribbon Committee to Keep GM.” He co-chaired the committee with Jack Davis, then chair of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. The committee hired engineer Ray Tadgerson.
Tadgerson created a design that would allow GM to use the current facility and revamp it with new technology.
“He convinced me that we could build that site downtown on a brownfield, get the benefits of the brownfield legislation, and not have to tear up new land,” Hollister said.
GM officials took the plan, reviewed it and jumped on board.
The revamped plant was created at the Grand River Assembly Plant near downtown Lansing. That partnership grew and gave birth to a solid partnership between the city and GM.
The Delta River Assembly Plant is one product of that partnership, and so is the new battery plant in Delta Township.
Just as GM was facing competition from foreign car manufacturers that required a reimagination of the American automobile, GM is facing a new alignment as automakers shift into electric vehicles. Workers and automakers have to come to grips with the fallout of a global pandemic that has forced a reimagination of work worldwide, address climate change, and find solutions to integrating artificial intelligence while preparing displaced workers for the next generation of work.
Hollister says the shift is also forcing a new relationship between GM and the union.
“General Motors in this business has thrived and with the tax breaks they got from the feds years ago. They have benefited quite nicely,” he says. “It’s time they share.”
The UAW workers Hollister has worked with in the past have also helped give rise to a trusted workforce for the world.
As an example, he noted it was retrained UAW autoworkers who helped build the Michigan State University Facility for Rare Isotope Beams – a facility MSU won over international competition. That was a tall order, as well, he says.
“They are building a machine that hasn’t been – the technology hasn’t been developed yet,” Hollister says of the FRIB build. “That’s how much confidence we have in our workforce.”