By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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BELVIDERE — Local lawmakers and the leader of an economic development agency say comments from the top executive of Stellantis this week show there is still potential for the Belvidere Assembly Plant to reopen with a new focus on electric vehicles.
But it also again illustrates how the plant is tangled up in contentious negotiations between the multinational automotive company and the United Auto Workers, which has said it is prepared to strike if the Big Three automakers don’t improve wages and benefits. The UAW’s contract with Stellantis, Ford and GM is set to expire Sept. 14.
“I’m hoping that both the UAW and Stellantis will be open to come to an agreement that is beneficial for both parties,” said Pamela Lopez-Fettes, executive director of Growth Dimensions, which is Belvidere and Boone County’s economic development agency. “I just hope that everyone is open so that we can get an agreement that is both profitable (for the company) but best for employees.”
This week, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said the Belvidere Assembly Plant could reopen depending on the outcome of union negotiations and the success of the company’s electric vehicle rollout in the United States. The plant has been idle since Feb. 28 and its 1,350 workers were laid off.
He made those comments Wednesday during an earnings report conference call with reporters.
“So far the decision is not made,” Tavares said of the Belvidere plant’s future. “We will wait to see if we are able to use these negotiations to make sure that we fix all the competitive opportunities we have.”
The company also reported a 37% increase in earnings during the first half of the year, driven by income in North America and electric vehicle sales in Europe.
The first six months of the year delivered 10.9 billion euros, or $12.07 billion, in profits compared to 7.96 billion euros in the first half of 2022. The automaker also set a net revenue record for the first half of the year.
“Stellantis counted its huge profit in euros, but it’s our workers in North America who made most of that money. Our workers are the profit engine for the company, but we’ve been getting the shaft for years,” UAW Vice President Rich Boyer, director of the union’s Stellantis department, said in a statement. “Even when plants like Belvidere make high-quality product and solid profits, Stellantis executives shut them down.
“These numbers show there’s no excuse for that kind of cruelty anymore. Our workers are fired up and we’re going to win what we and our communities deserve.”
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Vella, along with state Sen. Steve Stadelman, pushed for the passage of a law that aims to spur electric vehicle production in Illinois. That law was signed in November 2021, and then this past June Gov. JB Pritzker signed a budget that included a $400 million fund to help the state close major economic development deals. Stellantis is considered to be one of the key targets for that fund.
“We have a pretty attractive incentive package, combined with local incentives as well,” Stadelman said. “I think the combination between local and state is over a billion dollars. I think we’re definitely competitive with what other states may be putting on the table as far as financial incentives.”
Tavares said Stellantis is starting an “EV offensive” in the United States with the Jeep Recon, the Wagoneer and the Dodge Charger. But Stellantis has not stated whether Belvidere is being considered for EV production. State officials, however, have directed their focus on making Belvidere an attractive location for EV manufacturing.
Stadelman and Vella said Tavares’ comments show electric vehicle production is still possible in Belvidere, but it also shows a final decision isn’t likely until union negotiations are complete.
“It confirms that the conversations have been continuing all along between the state and Stellantis,” Stadelman said. “It confirms we’re still in the mix.”