GM suppliers adopt wait-and-see stance
Mondays are always busy, what with having to catch up with e-mails and returning phone calls, but the sudden walkout by United Auto Workers at General Motors plants across the country made for an extra hectic morning.
The UAW strike doesn’t just affect the company and the employees who work there. About 2,800 UAW members work at GM’s plant in Janesville, Wis. A car is a complicated machine, and thousands upon thousands of workers make the machines that make the parts that end up in a Buick, Saturn, Chevrolet, etc.
Lucas Derry, executive vice president of Header Die & Tool Inc. in Rockford, was heading to Detroit for a conference but managed to squeeze in several calls to his company’s larger customers. Header Die makes tooling for the fastener industry, and about 70 percent of the company’s business comes from the automotive industry.
“I haven’t been able to get in touch with any of them,” Derry said. “We’re trying to be proactive and find out whether they are planning on putting any orders on hold. We could focus on other things if it’s OK with them.”
Derry, whose company employs about 40 on Eastrock Court, said the strike will have little effect if it’s settled quickly.
“If it’s three weeks, it could have a big impact.”
That was a common refrain among the several Rock River Valley companies that are indirect suppliers to the country’s No. 1 automaker.
“The automotive companies have the supply chain as tight as possible, so (a slowdown) in orders could be fairly instant,” said Scott Sommers of Freeway Rockford Inc., which has 18 workers making washers that go on the screws that end up in the automobiles of all the major automakers. “If you were a company that relied heavily on GM, it could hurt quite dramatically. We’re fairly well diversified, and we don’t see it affecting us a ton.”
As dependent as the Rock River Valley economy is on manufacturing, many of the medium to small companies have gotten out of the automotive industry. Of course, the auto industry remains a very large player locally thanks to Janesville’s GM plant as well as Chrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant and the ring of direct suppliers that surround it. Still, most of the small operations in the area have either gotten out of automotive entirely or are working hard to make it as small a part of their business as possible.
“Our GM business is pretty limited by design,” said Everett Hawkins, vice president of manufacturing for Forest City Gear in Roscoe. “We don’t mind doing business with them, we’re just very cautious. (A long strike) would not hinder us right now.”
Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 815-987-1339.