Summer breaks are still on

The traditional summer shutdown for area auto suppliers appears to have as much staying power as baseball and barbecue, even as companies elsewhere say demand is so strong they must keep operating.

Officials for area auto plants and suppliers say they’re sticking with breaks around July 4 that have long allowed workers to update production lines for new models or simply take much-appreciated time off.

James Winship, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 755, which represents some 400 workers at the Moraine DMAX truck engine plant, said employees are working some overtime. Otherwise, they plan their usual summer break, he said.

“We’re steady,” Winship said.

Ed Miller, spokesman for Honda North America Inc., said Honda plants in eastern and central Ohio — which altogether employ more than 13,000 people — will stick to their traditional summer respites, returning to production July 8.

“For us, we do work overtime when we have to,” Miller said. “But taking a week off in the summer is important, too.”

Some automakers say they will keep running all summer. Chrysler has said its Toledo North Jeep plant will keep operating, but it also recently reopened that plant after a changeover to a new Jeep Cherokee. Reports have quoted GM North America President Mark Reuss as saying GM must keep operating.

Regional plants say they’re seeing the same strong demand that others see. Auto sales in May were up 8 percent compared to May 2012. Sales for 2013 are up about 7 percent compared to the same point in 2012.

Winship believes that talk about continued operations is a bit overwrought. He notes that summer shutdowns have often been used to update production lines to accommodate new models.

“Well, I don’t see any big model changes,” he said.

Terry Youngerman, human resources director for Tenneco’s Kettering plant, says his plant is planning to take its usual break — and so is its customer. The plant makes struts and ride suspension parts for GM.

“We only have a small number of folks working over the two weeks,” Youngerman said. “The info we have received from our customer indicates their plants are going to be down or running very little over those two weeks.”

David Cole, emeritus chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan, said the recent recession forced the big domestic three automakers to cut production capacity of well over two million vehicles a year. Combine that with current strong demand, and assembly plants can’t take time off, he said.

“They’re stretched,” Cole said.

Parts suppliers may have a different situation, though.

“If they have the inventory to satisfy the customers’s demand, they can take time off,” he said. “It’s really no big deal.”

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