O’Rourke Visit Spotlights Impact of Idled GM Plant

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Taxpayer help such as that which helped General Motors survive bankruptcy a decade ago should be conditioned on keeping jobs in communities like Lordstown, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke said.

Currently a long shot for securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, O’Rourke pressed for greater accountability – for both corporations like GM and President Donald Trump – during a visit to the village Wednesday.

Bearing a stack of pizzas, O’Rourke greeted about 30 picketers at the GM Lordstown plant following an afternoon roundtable with representatives of organized labor at Lordstown High School. Local members of the United Auto Workers and retirees have picketed the idled GM Lordstown plant since midnight Sept. 16 as part of the UAW’s national strike against GM.

The plant manufactured its last Chevrolet Cruze in March, when the plant went on “unallocated” status, a term O’Rourke characterized as “Orwellian.”

American taxpayers bailed out GM when it was in bankruptcy in 2009. When O’Rourke spoke in March with Dave Green, then president of UAW Local 1112, the former Texas congressman said Green told him about the infrastructure investments around the plant made by Ohio taxpayers, including two Ohio Turnpike interchanges

“Those investments should have been made conditional on keeping those jobs in this community,” O’Rourke said.

Instead of rewarding shareholders with its share of a $2 trillion tax cut last year, GM should have invested in its workers and training, as well as retrofitting the Lordstown plant to meet the company’s needs.

“Then this community would have been made whole. The taxpayer would have been made whole,” he said.

O’Rourke said the striking UAW members were fighting not just for other UAW members but also for all Americans. Without unions, “there’s a real chance we lose the middle class in a country that is already as economically divided as it ever has been. You have to go back to the Gilded Age to see anything close to that,” he said.

At the idled plant, O’Rourke shook hands with picketers and listened to their stories.

Craig Nicholas of Howland, who worked at the Lordstown plant for 42 years, is weighing his options. He received a letter stating that he would be transferred to Arlington, Texas.

“Life is just a question mark. I’m seeing what the contract holds,” he said.

Unlike others, he has the option to retire if he chooses. “I just feel for the guys who have 24, 25 years that have to transfer,” he said.

Nicholas was joined Wednesday by his wife, Tammy, and his daughter, Olivia, both of whom are school teachers. His GM wages permitted his wife to stay home with their children when they were younger.

“This was how he supported our family,” Olivia Nicholas said.

Craig Nicholas said he appreciated O’Rourke’s visit. “To me, it means people other than our local community are concerned,” he said.

Meeting with journalists after talking with picketers, O’Rourke weighed in on the latest developments surrounding Trump and his efforts to persuade the Ukrainian president during a phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. A summary of notes from the president’s conversation were released Wednesday. READ PDF

Those notes “should erase any and all doubt” among members of Congress or the press, or “any American” regarding Trump’s complicity and culpability, O’Rourke said.

“The president used his position of public trust and power to ask a foreign leader to involve himself in our domestic elections,” he said. “If we as a country fail to hold him accountable, if there is no justice at the end of the day, then we will have set the precedent that some people are above the law. Once we do that, we have lost this democracy forever and there is no getting it back.”

At the roundtable, the discussion largely centered on the effect of the GM shutdown – not only the economic impact on the community but the toll it is taking on families and schools.

“It just seems like our Valley’s been taking one hit after another,” said Bill Padisak, president of the AFL-CIO’s Mahoning-Trumbull Labor Council.

During a roundtable at Lordstown High School, O’Rourke met with Mahoning Trumbull AFL-CIO members Janet Bernard, recording secretary and Jaladah Aslam, as well as Kathleen Kelly-Calcei, field representative for the Northeast Ohio AFL-CIO.

Jerry Ladd of Green Township was transferred to a plant four hours away that makes the Chevrolet Silverado. He moved away from his wife, who is studying to be a nurse, and two children back here.

“I probably get home two Saturdays a month,” he said.

Tiffany Davis, a fifth grade teacher at Lordstown, said her husband was transferred to Bowling Green, Ky. He drives home every Friday to see her and their two children then returns to Kentucky Sunday morning after breakfast. “They miss him terribly,” she said.

Students in school also feel the impact, including children who are no longer in class because their parents were transferred or who are separated from their transferred parents, grandparents or others involved in their lives.

“They are young and they have young minds. People think that means they don’t understand but they do,” she said.

In addition to the emotional impact, the schools are trying to deal with the financial impact, she said.

Alyssa Brookbank, a school intervention specialist and president of the Lordstown Teachers Association, noted that there are food and hygiene pantries set up at the high school, and a backpack program is being put in place at the elementary school.

Jose Arroyo, a United Steelworkers of America staff member, said he has closed five plants over the past four and a half years, including Comprehensive Logistics, which performed sequencing and some component assembly for the Chevrolet Cruze.

“When they went down, we went down,” he said.

Since 1978, the United Steelworkers of America alone lost 50,000 jobs in the Mahoning Valley, said Gary Steinbeck, a USW staff retiree and vice president of Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO. Whoever the next president is needs to protect workers, he added. He also called for stronger labor laws to protect workers.

“To lose this plant is another disgrace and we just keep going through it over and over and over again. When the hell is it going to end?” he said. “We’re not even hardly making anything in America anymore.”

O’Rourke agreed that workers need better protections and supported collective bargaining. He said he heard the participants “loud and clear” on higher standards in Nafta, better enforcement on certification before products cross borders and the right to organize.

Pictured above: Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke met with media and members of the UAW Local 1112 who have been picketing outside of the idled GM Lordstown plant.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.