Government

20 Years After ‘Bring it Home,’ Leaders Hope to ‘Drive it Home’

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – Much has changed in the 20 years since the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and UAW Locals 1112 and 1714 spearheaded the Bring It Home campaign, which supported the efforts of General Motors Co.’s Lordstown plant to win a new vehicle to manufacture there.

Competition in the global market is more intense than ever, while strides in advanced manufacturing have reduced the need for the number of employees it takes to operate a manufacturing plant.

Meanwhile, officials say there’s a better understanding between management and labor today at the Lordstown complex compared to two decades ago – a climate that they say works in favor of the plant securing a new product for the future.

On Monday, about 200 gathered at UAW 1112’s union hall to officially launch the Drive It Home campaign, an effort that has drawn together business leaders, elected officials, labor and the general public for a collective voice in support of the plant and its bid to secure a new vehicle to build in the future.

But what will that product look like? And what sort of changes could the Mahoning Valley expect as Lordstown jockeys to compete for a future vehicle?

“If you get in front of the next generation, if you get in front of electrical vehicles, if you get in front of hydrogen vehicles – you’re talking about needing a lot of workers because it’s the next generation of work that hasn’t been totally automated yet,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio.

“That’s what we’re trying to communicate to General Motors – we have the team in place here, we have the workforce here, we have the economic incentives in place here,” the congressman said. “So, whatever road you want to go down technology-wise, we can support that.”

Ryan was among a slate of speakers Monday at UAW Local 1112 to kick off Drive It Home, all of whom stressed the importance of demonstrating to GM and the rest of the country that the Mahoning Valley and its workforce are second-to-none when it comes to manufacturing automobiles.

He especially singled out the solidarity of those present at the union hall, which was filled with prominent business leaders, labor officials, retirees, autoworkers and elected officials representing Democrats and Republicans, and both Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

“We’re all here. You will not find any group of people that, when push comes to shove, will cooperate and work as a team better than us in the Mahoning Valley,” he said.

The plant was successful in securing the Chevrolet Cobalt, the small-car replacement for the Cavalier, which was once produced at Lordstown. It then won its bid in 2010 to build the Cobalt’s replacement, the critically acclaimed Chevrolet Cruze.

However, sales of the fuel-efficient Cruze have fallen dramatically over the last two years as consumers flocked to trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles. As such, Lordstown was forced to eliminate two of three shifts, the last round of layoffs coming in June. About 1,500 are employed at the Lordstown Complex.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, remarked it was an outrage that GM announced that it would eliminate the second shift at Lordstown the same day the company announced it would build its Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico – a strategy that he says is encouraged by the Trump administration’s tax policy.

“Congress ran through a tax bill that the president signed that gives more incentives for these companies to move offshore. We’ve got to stop that kind of thing,” he said. “Too many companies shut down here and move overseas and collect a tax break. That’s bad economics and is morally wrong.”

Brown has introduced legislation – The American Cars, American Jobs Act – which would give customers a $3,500 discount when they purchase vehicles made in the United States. At the same time, the bill revokes tax cuts on overseas profits from automakers that ship jobs overseas.

“This valley knows how to make cars,” Brown said during the rally Monday. “What we’re doing right now is going to make a difference.”

Brown added that a meeting with GM CEO Mary Barra earlier this year yielded no guarantees about the future of the plant.

“They’re keeping it pretty close to the vest,” he said of GM’s plans. “We continue to work with them as I keep talking to the White House, which has remained quiet on this. I’m not going to quit.”

Among the other speakers joining Brown and Ryan were James Dignan, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber; Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill; U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6, Ohio; Secretary of State and Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted; UAW 1112 President David Green; UAW 1112 Shop Chairman Danny Morgan; and UAW Regional Director Rich Rankin.

Johnson said that the entire Mahoning Valley understands the importance of the Lordstown plant, evidenced by the cross section of supporters that turned out Monday.

“I think you’re going to see that GM will recognize, when they look at the workforce, that they’re ready to work,” he said. From a federal level, Johnson said that the government should continue to reduce regulations and make tax cuts permanent so businesses can grow and expand.

Partisan politics, Johnson noted, doesn’t apply to initiatives such as this when so much is at stake. “It’s not a political issue. It’s an American issue.”

UAW 1112 President Green said his union has come to the table over the last several years and has forged a better understanding with management.

Earlier this year, for example, the plant opted to merge Local 1714 into Local 1112 to create a single union at Lordstown in order to bring more efficiency to the operation. “They know we’re going to do everything we can do to secure a product here,” he said.

The national agreement with GM expires in September 2019, Green said. Part of winning a new product depends on the nature of UAW 1112’s local agreement, he acknowledged.

That there are no GM managers involved with the effort this time doesn’t concern Green. “I haven’t heard any negative feedback from the company – this is a positive for them as well.”

Meanwhile, Green said that the show of community support helps the morale of those workers in the plant and those that are on layoff.

“I think people are excited today,” Green said of those workers at the plant. “We still have 700 people laid off, a lot of folks in the plant are uncertain of the future, so this gives them a little bit of hope when they see the community coming together.”

Moreover, officials hope that this show of community support and cooperation will have a positive impact in Detroit when it comes time to make a decision on a new product.

Green said the campaign will sponsor letter-writing campaigns and raise the profile of the plant throughout the state. “Every month I want to make sure we’re doing something to help drive it home.”

Those wishing to donate to the campaign can do so at www.driveithomeohio.com. All donations are tax deductible and are administered by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Foundation.

“This is what it takes, this is the family part of being in the Mahoning Valley,” the Chamber’s Dignan told the crowd. “Bring it here, bring it home, let’s get some investment, let’s get a new product.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.