Lawmakers Press Barra on Future of GM Lordstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Lawmakers representing Ohio are again asking General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra to give the Lordstown workforce a chance to “show what they can do,” and to expedite negotiations to potentially bring a new product to the GM Lordstown assembly plant.

U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, joined other U.S. lawmakers in a meeting with Barra Wednesday about the company’s plans to put the GM Lordstown assembly plant on unallocated status. WATCH VIDEO

Barra also met with U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13, and Bill Johnson, R-6, as well as representatives from Maryland.

After the meeting, Portman said they had a “good, very candid discussion” with Barra, who told them that the company is still in ongoing negotiations with United Auto Workers Local 1112 for a contract. The senators urged Barra to expedite those negotiations “as much as possible” so there is less uncertainty for the 1,500 hourly workers who now face potential layoffs, along with thousands more workers whose supplier companies rely on production at GM Lordstown.

“Also, she has said to us that she is going to keep an open mind, but does not want to raise expectations,” Portman said.

The meeting follows the Nov. 26 announcement by GM to close the Lordstown Complex in March and halt production of the Chevrolet Cruze made there.

Asked by reporters specifically about the Lordstown plant as she left the meetings, Barra said, “The Lordstown plant is an unallocated plant. We have a contract with our UAW and it’s very important that we respect that and we work through that contract.”

At the start of the brief Q&A, Barra was interrupted by a self-described “taxpayer” who shouted his concern about the 1,600 workers – a figure that includes both production workers and office workers – at Lordstown. “It’s about my friends and family,” he said. WATCH VIDEO posted by Plain Dealer.

“We know the impact this has on the Valley,” said Brown, commenting on the thousands who were laid off when the second and third shifts were cut at Lordstown. He said he and Portman will “continue to fight to get a decision quicker rather than later” regarding putting a new product in the Lordstown assembly plant, whether it be production from Mexico or an electric vehicle.

The senators commented on the quality of the workforce in the Mahoning Valley and the efforts they made to keep GM Lordstown open 20 years ago with the Bring it Home campaign, which brought the Chevrolet Cobalt to the plant. With GM looking to roll out 20 new models in the next five years, the senators believe that one or more of the models should be built in Lordstown.

“We believe that the workers and the community of Lordstown have proven themselves time and time again for almost five and a half decades,” Portman said. “Just as the workforce has stood with General Motors over the years, we expect General Motors now to stand with this workforce and give them a chance.”

“JD Power said this is the best GM assembly plant workforce in all of North America,” Brown added. “As [Mary] Barra will tell you, and she’s honest about that, they are looking for ways to help these workers that have lost jobs to work at other GM plants around the country. That number is finite. Her work on it is ongoing, but people want to stay in the Valley and work in this plant. They’ve done it for almost 53 years.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Barra confirmed that some of the hourly employees at the plants will have the opportunity to work at other GM plants in the U.S., and that GM is committed to working with elected officials “to minimize the impact on the communities,” she said.

“I also informed them that all salaried GM workers impacted by these actions are being offered outplacement services to help them transition to new jobs,” Barra said. “I share their concerns about the impact the actions we announced last week will have on our employees, their families and the communities. These were very difficult decisions — decisions I take very personally.”

Since the announcement by GM, U.S. Rep. Ryan said he’s heard from “countless people across northeast Ohio who are scared for their financial security and their community’s future.” Concerns that he conveyed to Barra during the meeting, he said.

“These are not just numbers on a page, but people’s lives at stake. I also reaffirmed my desire to work with her, the [Trump] administration, and my colleagues on the Hill to bring this problem to a resolution that supports the workers who have done nothing wrong,” Ryan said.

In a letter to President Donald Trump Monday, Ryan urged the president to preserve federal subsidies to produce electric cars, saying that ending them would make it more difficult to bring a new product to GM Lordstown.

Earlier Wednesday, Portman spoke with President Trump, who he said is committed to keeping the Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio. The senator also spoke with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on the matter, he said.

“We’re trying everything we can to ensure that these workers in Lordstown get the support they deserve now and are able to build another product,” Portman said. “We’re not asking for charity. What we’re asking for is to give the community and workforce the opportunity to once again show what they can do.”

Portman commented on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act lowering the income tax rate for companies to 21%, down from 35%. Compared to the 30% tax rate in Mexico, “it’s more competitive to be a company invested in America,” he said. Investments in plants like GM Lordstown also get an “immediate write-off,” he added.

“The tax bill is exactly the kind of thing that General Motors should be using to reinvest in Lordstown for a new product,” Portman said. “We understand that the Cruze isn’t selling like it used to. That’s a market condition; we can’t change that. But we also understand that the plant deserves the support of this company that has supported it so well over the last five decades.”

U.S. Rep. Johnson asked Barra how GM “got into this overcapacity issue after the American taxpayers – the same taxpayers who are now losing their jobs – bailed them out.” He also asked why GM can’t bring a new product to Lordstown.

“I think it’s fair to say that over the years they’ve had to make previous plant and assembly line modifications to bring in other product lines. Why can’t they do that now?” Johnson asked. “After all, they haven’t been producing the Cruze alone in Lordstown since 1966.

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