Last Day Dawns at General Motors Lordstown
LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Just before dawn, a steady stream of vehicles filed into the entrances of General Motors Co.’s Lordstown plant, as employees reported to work for what many believe is the last time. Autoworkers sped past cameras and reporters, reluctant to talk about their final hours as GM Lordstown employees.
The complex’s final product – a 2019 Chevrolet Cruze — is expected to roll of the assembly line sometime today, ending a 53-year run of one of the largest manufacturing plants of its kind in North America.
“It’s a very gut-wrenching, sad day for our members as they shoot in those last screws, hang those last tires, and secure those last fasteners on the Chevy Cruze,” said David Green, president of United Autoworkers Local 1112, which represents about 1,400 hourly workers in the plant.
Green said that he started at the plant in 1989 as a summer helper, was a temporary worker for six years, and was hired on full-time in 1995. “It’s been a long time for me working here,” he reflected, gazing at the giant plant from Hallock Young Road on this frigid March morning.
Now, as hourly employees report to the plant on what is likely the final day of production, Green said the next step is to assure the membership that there are options open to those who decide to remain in the Mahoning Valley.
“A lot of people are going to try and get some training, go back to school,” Green said. Hundreds of others, he noted, have accepted transfers to other plants or have already moved to other GM facilities.
“It’s very difficult to wake up and not go to work after doing so for a couple decades or longer,” Green said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”
In late November, GM announced that it would cease production of the Chevrolet Cruze this month and would place the Lordstown plant on “unallocated” status. That means the company has not awarded a new vehicle model for the plant to produce.
Meanwhile, talks between the UAW and GM are slated to begin this summer toward a new collective bargaining agreement. The current pact expires in September.
That’s left a glimmer of hope among local elected officials and union leaders – many of whom believe that the future of Lordstown hinges on the new agreement.
“This is a sad day, but I’m not giving up,” said Mayor Arno Hill. “I’m relying on GM and the UAW to be able to work something out and try to get a new product in here.”
Hill said the Cruze was probably the best vehicle ever produced at the plant. “Unfortunately right now, there’s not a market for it,” he said, as consumer trends have shifted to trucks, sport-utility vehicles and crossovers. GM Lordstown began production of the Cruze in July 2010, replacing the Chevrolet Cobalt.
“We’re optimistic that something will come, but we probably won’t know anything for several months,” he said.
As for the Village of Lordstown, Hill said the administration has budgeted for this, and finances should be strong through 2019 and possibly into 2020. “We will be monitoring it every month to see if we need to make adjustments,” he said.
He said Lordstown’s school system stands to lose between 50 and 75 students, or about 10% of its population, as families who worked at the plant relocate to other facilities in other communities. “It’s tough on the families, but as a village, we’ll survive.”
As for Green, he said he plans to see the process through, assisting Local 1112’s members and doing what he can to land another product at the plant.
“I’m staying here, I’m in it for the long haul,” he said, dismissing some analysts’ reports that the plant will close and be put up for sale.
“I don’t see any For Sale signs, I don’t want to see any For Sale signs,” Green remarked. “I’m hopeful that our international union will be able to negotiate a product for us here.”
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Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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