Brown Hears from GM Workers Before Heading to Iowa

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – Workers at the General Motors Co. Lordstown Complex urged U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to keep up his efforts to secure a GM new product for the complex, even as other officials seem focused on bringing a new manufacturer to the plant.

Brown, who is considering a run for president and plans to visit early caucus and primary states next week, conducted a roundtable discussion with members of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at their union hall here Monday afternoon. The objective, he said, was to provide him and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, with information to help them figure out what the next steps should be.

“It will give me information, I hope, to talk to GM and it will help me show GM management how serious this community is about this, that this is a community that’s always stepped up and always done it right,” he said.

The dialogue, which lasted roughly 45 minutes, covered the practicality of retooling the plant, GM’s procedures for offering transfer opportunities and the effects that past layoffs and the anticipated March shutdown of the plant have on families.

Brown, who has been in communication with GM CEO Mary Barra on several occasions about the plant, has urged the company to move production of the Chevrolet Blazer from Mexico to Lordstown or site one of its proposed electric vehicles there. He also has questioned GM’s reluctance to retool the plant – particularly its paint shop – for a new product.

“Redoing the paint shop can’t be that expensive,” Brown said.

Company officials have said the paint shop is one of the largest barriers to allocating a new model to the plant. Since the paint shop was designed for sedans likes the Chevrolet Cruze, updating the line to accommodate trucks or SUVs would require the entire shop to be reconfigured and remodeled. Part of the process in getting the Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico ready for the Blazer was retooling the paint shop, a move the Ohio senators have pressed GM CEO Mary Barra on.

The senator expressed surprise that Lordstown workers who have applied for transfers to other GM plants are typically only given only two weeks to accept the relocation and move. He asked about workers taking advantage of relocations to GM’s plants in Flint, Mich., and Spring Hill, Tenn.

“It’s pretty hard to just uproot your life and move away,” Brown said. “It’s impractical and a bit cruel to make that as the major solution when in fact they could retool this plant.”

Many workers are scared and don’t want to wait to see what happens with contract in September, said Danny Morgan, UAW 1112 shop chairman.

In 2017, representatives of Local 1112’s bargaining unit went to Detroit to find out how they could get competitive with their labor rate, and put together a program that “wasn’t popular by any means” with members, Morgan said. Part of that move was merging UAW Local 1714, which represented paint shop workers, with Local 1112.

“We did a lot of things to make the small car competitive in Lordstown,” he said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Rick Smith, financial secretary of the union and a second-generation autoworker. “I have no desire to transfer. … This is our home and it’s very difficult to pick up.”

“This is tearing and ripping people’s families apart,” said Tiffany King of Salem. “This is affecting the entire Mahoning Valley.”

King launched her own business five years ago, Bumpers Cheesecakery, and presented the senator with one of her cheesecakes after the event.

Trish Amado of Poland and her teenage daughter, Madison, shared how the situation is affecting them. Amado is now working full time in the union hall’s transitional center but her best friend, who is six years away from retiring, is transferring to Flint with her children.

The two boys are “practically my brothers,” Madison Amado said.

Jeremy Ladd of Green Township, a 23-year employee at the Lordstown plant, works as a pilot material handler. It’s a job that now is “a little depressing because no new parts are being shipped into the plant,” he said.

Following the roundtable, Brown said he and Portman are not giving up. “We are just going to continue to push for either some kind of retooling for the Chevy Blazer” or an electric vehicle, he said.

Brown has drawn national attention as a potential presidential candidate after handily winning a third term last November in an election that saw Republicans otherwise sweep major statewide offices. Next week, he will embark on his so-called “dignity of work” tour that will take him to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as he explores whether to enter the race.

“My whole career has been about workers and the dignity of work. That’s who I am and what I will continue to be,” Brown said. “I’m hopeful that other Democrats pick up that message, whether I run or not.”

The senator also rejected the deal President Donald Trump proposed over the weekend to reopen the government. Trump proposed extending protections for three years for individuals covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and others in danger of being deported in exchange for $5.7 billion for his proposed border wall, as well as funds for other border-related projects.

Democratic leaders have called the offer a “non-starter” and Brown was no more accepting. If Congress approves the border wall finding, Trump will shut down the government again in six months and demand $5 billion more, he said.

“It’s like a 2-year-old that stops crying when you give him a cookie until he wants another cookie and he starts crying again,” he said. “You do not reward that behavior.”

He instead called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring back legislation for stop-gap funding that the Senate approved 100-0 in December. Trump did not sign the bill after it passed through both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Pictured: At a roundtable discussion Monday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown heard from UAW Local 1112 workers, including Tiffany King and Chrystal Carpenter.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.