March 13, 2019 / 4:50 PM / 2 months ago

UAW leader puts Detroit Three 'on notice' ahead of contract talks

DETROIT, March 13 (Reuters) - The leader of the United Auto Workers union on Wednesday warned that job security and preventing the shift of U.S. jobs to Mexico would be top priorities in contract talks with Detroit's automakers slated for later this year.

"There will be no more quiet closing of plants, no more shipping jobs to Mexico and abroad without a sound," Jones said in a speech to delegates the union's bargaining convention in Detroit. "They are on notice."

This year's contract talks between the UAW and General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are likely to be contentious, with both sides focused on healthcare costs and the use of temporary workers.

The auto industry is expected to hit a downturn following an unprecedented run of strong sales dating to the end of the Great Recession.

The talks will come after GM's announcement in November it will close five North American plants producing less-popular sedans.

Just last week, the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the line at GM's plant in Lordstown in northeastern Ohio.

The closing has drawn a lawsuit from the United Auto Workers union and significant political blowback, including from Republican U.S. President Donald Trump.

Boosting American manufacturing jobs was a cornerstone of Trump 's successful 2016 campaign and Ohio is a key state for his 2020 reelection chances.

The UAW has vowed to fight for GM to reopen Lordstown with a new vehicle.

During his speech on Wednesday, Jones said to workers at Lordstown and other plants slated for closure: "We have your back."

Analysts, however, say the chances of a new product being assigned to Lordstown are slim as Lordstown was one of several money-losing GM plants running well below capacity.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra has said the cuts will help the company's long-term financial stability. The automaker expects they will improve annual free cash flow by $6 billion by the end of 2020 - and fund new electric and self-driving vehicles.

Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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