FREMONT -- Excuse Stanley Mayfield if he is less than impressed when politicians one-up each other to show how much they care about jobs.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has called himself "California's job czar" and denounces Democratic legislators for standing in the way of his proposals he says would create jobs.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg offers 27 bills that he says would create 140,000 jobs, largely by tapping into the Obama administration's $862 billion stimulus package.
"I would like to believe it, but the bottom line is that they want your vote," Mayfield said.
For the past 12 years, Mayfield, 38, has worked at California's only car factory, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors.
As part of its bankruptcy last year, General Motors, now owned by Uncle Sam, turned its back on NUMMI. Toyota followed, declaring that it would cease its operations March 31, moving the manufacturing of Corollas and Tacoma pickups elsewhere.
On that day, Mayfield's job will end, as will the jobs of 4,500 other NUMMI workers and thousands more who work for businesses that supply the plant.
The fate of NUMMI's workers raises questions whether politicians, particularly at the state level, can do much to alter basic business decisions related to hiring and retaining jobs or lure new business.
From its earliest days, state and federal authorities provided NUMMI with breaks. In 1984, the U.S. Commerce Department waived import tariffs on parts, and the Federal Trade Commission exempted GM and Toyota from antitrust laws. In the years since, the company received discounts on energy costs, and the Port of Oakland dredged San Francisco Bay in part to accommodate ships required by NUMMI.
The state allotted $18.3 million to NUMMI to train workers.
Once Toyota announced the closure, lawmakers offered more enticements. Proposals are pending to eliminate sales tax on equipment purchases, give $29 million in low-interest loans, create a new tax credit to retain autoworker jobs, establish a preference that the state would buy NUMMI vehicles, build a BART station nearby, and so on.
With March 31 nearing, most politicians, Schwarzenegger among them, have moved on. One exception is Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who is presiding over what he calls a blue ribbon commission to offer a last-ditch plan to save the plant. Organized labor is a driving force. UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken, a labor expert, provides expertise.
Their point: Toyota would not be the world's largest car manufacturer without California. We account for 17 percent of its sales nationally, and we buy one in four Prius hybrids.
Shaiken and Lockyer contend that Toyota, facing a public relations disaster because of its faulty cars and recalls, could reclaim some of its luster by reversing itself and keeping the plant open.
None of it has worked.
"It's not financially viable" to maintain operations, James Lentz, president of Toyota USA, said in Washington last week, responding to questioning by Rep. Jerry McNerney, an East Bay Democrat.
Schwarzenegger has been absent from the fray. It's odd given his rhetoric: "The first priority for the coming year, obviously, is to get the economy and to get jobs back. Jobs, jobs, jobs," Schwarzenegger declared in his State of the State speech.
Back on Aug. 27, he issued a statement lamenting Toyota's announcement that the plant was closing. He blamed the closure on GM's bankruptcy and the "worldwide collapse in demand for automobiles."
Four months later, Toyota Motor Sales gave the governor a $20,000 campaign contribution. The governor's timing is inexplicable. The donation came as evidence grew of flaws in Toyota vehicles, as consumers demanded recalls and as many California politicians still were pressing Toyota to keep NUMMI open.
Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight explained the genesis of the donation: "He approached the company." A Schwarzenegger spokesman issued the same statement given whenever a question is raised by a donation: "People donate to him because they believe in his vision..."
Toyota has not made another donation to a California politician since. It's unlikely many politicians would take Toyota money at this point.
Union executives believe Toyota is closing the plant because labor is cheaper in other parts of the country and world.
Schwarzenegger could have engaged. Given that taxpayers own GM, Obama could have insisted that GM keep a presence. The cost of maintaining the NUMMI jobs would be far less than the hundreds of billions being spent in the hope of "creating" new jobs. Then again, maybe Toyota made a cold, hard business decision that no politician could have altered.
THE SACRAMENTO BEE