Students Write Letters to Barra; GM Files WARN Notice

NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – The letters were stacked on two long tables at the United Auto Workers Local 1112 union hall – 5,000 of them, written by Mahoning Valley students to General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

Some were typed. Others were handwritten in block letters with colored pictures, as though prepared by someone in primary school. The common theme: a shared wish for GM’s Lordstown Complex to remain open.

The letters, written by students in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, are part of the Drive It Home Ohio campaign launched by the union and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber days before GM announced it would discontinue production of the Chevrolet Cruze at Lordstown.

Dave Green, Local 1112 president, and Tim O’Hara, vice president, were at the union hall Monday afternoon with the stacks of letters, which Green planned to begin packing and mailing to GM headquarters in Detroit. Area school superintendents had suggested a letter-writing effort to support Drive It Home, Green said.

“I hope Mary [Barra] gets a chance to sit down and actually read some of the letters. They’re very heartfelt,” he said. “These kids know a lot more than adults do sometimes.”

On Monday, GM filed its official notification to the state of Ohio about its plan to lay off workers at the Lordstown Complex effective March 11. The notice is required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

The shutdown will affect about 1,600 hourly and salaried workers at the plant, according to the letter, dated Dec. 14, sent to the Ohio Office of Workforce Development and the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services.

“We expect that these actions, when implemented, will be permanent, and will affect the entire facility,” wrote Albert Cooper, personnel director at the Lordstown Complex. The letter alludes to the 2,700 jobs that will be available at other GM plants for workers willing to transfer.

Students in from kindergarten to high school seniors drafted the letters to the GM CEO, some addressing her as “Ms. Barra,” others simply as “Mary” or “CEO Barra.”

A third-grader in Campbell asked Barra to create a new car like an SUV for the plant to replace the to-be-discontinued Cruze, “since those are what people buy now.” In another, a fourth-grader in Canfield points out how the family of one of his good friends will have to move because his father is among the GM workers expected to lose their jobs in March.

A Hubbard sophomore wrote about her father, a 17-year employee at the plant, and recalled a visit to see the plant at age 9, when she got to wear the goggles and earplugs that plant workers use. Now she worries about what will happen to other workers and their families, as well as her family. Her mother had to get a full-time job and her father will have to move to Tennessee for work, either by himself or taking his family with him.

Some of the letters are “heartbreaking,” O’Hara said. GM is always talking about numbers, whether numbers of jobs, numbers of people or other data that can be quantified, he said.

“Behind every number is a face, and the faces here are kids,” he continued. “They’re really knowledgeable about what’s going on. They’re talking about how it’s going to affect small businesses and the community as a whole and taxes.”

Some workers have expressed interest in the relocation initiative, Green said, although he does not have precise numbers. Others plan to ride the situation out.

For some, relocation isn’t an option, because of a spouse’s employment, children or caring for an aging parent. “Everybody’s in a different place,” he said.

The Regional Chamber and its partners are building support for Drive It Home, said James Dignan, chamber president and CEO.

“Since launching the campaign, we have been working collectively to raise awareness of and push forward this grassroots initiative in the community to garner even greater support,” he said. “That will remain our focus as 2018 comes to a close, and in 2019 we’ll look to see more ‘Drive It Home’ signs in yards and businesses and an additional movement through social media.”

The ultimate fate of the plant and workers depends on what happens during negotiations between the UAW and GM that will take place next summer. The current agreement expires in September 2019.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to end up getting a product here and the International’s going to bargain in good faith,” Green said. “Hopefully the company will do the same.”

Pictured; United Auto Workers Local 1112 President Dave Green with letters from Mahoning Valley schoolchildren to General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.