Economic Development

‘Drive It Home’ Campaign Launches to Support GM Lordstown Plant

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A coalition of labor and community leaders is launching a community support campaign to convince General Motors to maintain and grow operations at its Lordstown Complex.

The campaign, Drive It Home, will formally kick off Monday with a media event at the United Auto Workers Local 1112 Union Hall. It’s modeled on the 1998 Bring It Home campaign organized in response to concerns that the Lordstown plant was on the endangered list.

Partners in the campaign then and now include Local 1112, which represents workers at the plant, and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

The Lordstown complex, which manufactures the once-top-selling Chevrolet Cruze, is down to a single shift as the auto market has shifted from fuel-efficient vehicles like the Cruze to trucks and sport utility vehicles.

“With the elimination of two shifts at the Lordstown Complex over the past year and a half, the Youngstown-Warren region and state of Ohio must again rally their support and encourage and assist GM’s leadership in reutilizing those shifts and the physical assets the plant offers,” the Regional Chamber said in a media advisory announcing the campaign.

Details of the effort will be outlined Monday. Among those slated to speak are Dave Green, Local 1112 president; James Dignan, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber; Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill; U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown; and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson.

Before he was elected to Congress in 2010, Johnson, R-6 Ohio, said he worked in the transportation industry in Warren and knows firsthand the auto industry’s importance to America and specifically the importance of the GM Lordstown jobs to the Mahoning Valley.

“This is a broad support effort, and you will see and hear from community and business leaders – as well as elected officials from across the political spectrum – speaking out about the importance of these jobs to the working families we represent,” he said. “All of us, working together, are going to do everything in our power to let General Motors know how much we value their investment in northeast Ohio and how critical it is to our local economy.”

Discussions about the campaign began earlier this year, when Green and the UAW reached out to the Regional Chamber, Dignan said Thursday. Those discussions intensified after GM announced this spring the elimination of the second shift and discussions over the summer between GM CEO Mary Barra and Ohio’s two U.S. senators, during which she declined to commit to maintaining production or assigning a new product to the Lordstown plant.

“We need to stand up and make sure the GM brass knows this community supports Lordstown,” Dignan said. “The fact is we have this great asset and workforce.”

He characterized Drive It Home as a “positive campaign” to show why GM should either expand Cruze production at Lordstown or bring a new product there.

Green has worked at the plant for decades, including during the original Bring It Home campaign. Three days after he was elected union president in April, GM announced it was eliminating the second shift at the Lordstown plant.

“I knew something had to be done,” he said, and he reached out to the chamber and other organizations and individuals who were part of the earlier campaign. “I was very interested in trying to jump-start this to do whatever we can.”

More than 300 workers have already left the Mahoning Valley for work at other GM plants around the country. Those are people who are no longer volunteering at area churches, coaching youth sports teams and otherwise contributing to the community, he said.

In the 1990s, there were significant product quality and labor issues at the plant that fueled reports that GM intended to shutter the plant, but labor and management were able to “right the ship,” Lordstown Mayor Hill said.

The secured production of the Chevrolet Cobalt, followed by the 2010 launch of the Cruze, a longtime top-seller for GM that earned high quality ratings.

“Right now, it’s just an issue of where the next product is going to go,” Hille said.

Brown, D-Ohio, has called on GM to use the millions it gained from federal tax reform to invest in the Lordstown plant and criticized the automaker for its decision to site production of the new Blazer in Mexico. He noted he’s committed to working “in a bipartisan way” with the UAW, state and local leaders and GM.

“The GM Lordstown Complex is not only vital for the Valley, it’s vital to the entire state,” he said Thursday. “Ohio has stood by GM. Now GM needs to stand by Ohio and the workers who make their company successful.”

Portman, R-Ohio, had what he characterized as a “tough meeting” with Barra in September, when he pressed her to make a commitment to Lordstown. He also met last month with leadership from Local 1112 and the chamber.

“Ohio is a leader in auto manufacturing and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that we keep our auto industry strong,” he said. “The Drive It Home campaign will bring together community leaders and members alike to support the exceptional workers at the Lordstown plant and the world-class cars they produce.”

Green acknowledged there are costs associated with maintaining production at the plant. Drive It Home is about building awareness, educating people and putting together a coalition “to let the corporation know that we are a good investment,” he said

“This is much bigger than our workers. There’s a huge supply chain, not only in the Valley. This really reaches across the entire state. Manufacturing jobs create other jobs so the impact of losing the Lordstown Complex would have a huge impact across the state.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.