The head of the union that represents 4,700 workers at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. auto plant in Fremont alleged Wednesday that a proposed severance package mandates a gag order preventing him from speaking to news media.
Sergio Santos, the president of United Auto Workers Local 2244, told reporters at a news conference at the union's office, which is located across the street from the NUMMI plant, "This statement on the closing of the Toyota NUMMI auto assembly plant, will, by necessity, be my last."
The plant is scheduled to close on April 1.
Santos said the severance package offer "mandates a gag order that I believe violates our First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and our rights to freedom of association under the labor rights conventions of the United Nations International Labor Organization."
He said, "Nonetheless, under conditions set by Toyota, after the agreement is ratified, I will no longer be able to comment on the plant closing or its impact on our members."
But NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu said NUMMI did not issue a gag order.
Tomasu said, "The UAW committed of its own accord not to further denigrate NUMMI or Toyota as a term of the shutdown agreement."
He said, "In fact, the union negotiated and proposed specific language for that provision of the agreement."
NUMMI was a 25-year-old joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, but GM announced in June that it would withdraw from the partnership and Toyota announced in August that it wouldn't order any more vehicles from the plant after April 1.
Toyota announced on March 3 that it was offering $250 million in severance payments to all NUMMI employees, including about 900 salaried employees.
Javier Contreras, the chairman of UAW Local 2244's bargaining committee, said Toyota recently sweetened its severance offer for employees by $28 million, bringing the package to a total of about $278 million, including $206 million for union workers.
"We made improvements in economic and non-economic issues," Contreras said.
He said the union "had no choice" but to accept the offer because it was management's last offer.
Santos said, "I'm not happy with the settlement."
But he said, "We are accepting the terms of Toyota's settlement out of necessity as a means of securing some limited funds for our families."
However, Santos claimed that NUMMI employees will "lose our homes, our health benefits and ultimately our health."
Santos said that even though he and others are unhappy with the severance package, he thinks "it will pass overwhelmingly" in voting by union members at the union hall today.
The voting will continue until 7 p.m. and Santos said the results will be released early Thursday morning.
Juan Carrera, 61, said he voted for the offer because "there was no other choice."
Carrera said, "It's like take it or leave it" because time is running out before the plant closes.
Carrera said he's worked at the NUMMI plant since January 1985, which was shortly after the plant opened.
He said he previously worked at the plant for 25 years when it was run by GM.
Contreras said employees didn't get any severance when GM closed the plant in 1982.