Union Chief, Elected Officials Mixed on Potential Lordstown Sale
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dave Green learned about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday about a potential deal for Workhorse Group Inc. to purchase the idled General Motors Lordstown Complex – “when my phone started to blow up,” he said.
The president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 reported he was fielding calls and text messages for much of the afternoon, following President Donald Trump’s tweet that GM is in discussions with the Cincinnati-based electric vehicle manufacturer to acquire the Lordstown plant (READ STORY).
“It was definitely a shock to me,” Green said. “I don’t have any answers on what this might mean. It’s too early yet.”
During a conference call with reporters, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, characterized the situation as “bittersweet.”
Ryan spoke yesterday with GM CEO Mary Barra as well as with Workhorse CEO Duane Hughes, and Steve Burns, the company’s former CEO and founder of a newly created company that intends to purchase the plant.
Many of the discussions Ryan and other parties have had with GM over the past several weeks have centered on “something GM could be part of,” so workers could remain with GM locally and build their pensions, Ryan said.
Details of what is being proposed were still being confirmed but the deal would not be a joint venture with GM, Ryan said.
“That’s just not the case,” the congressman said. “General Motors is not involved with this at all,” he reiterated. While the proposal doesn’t appear to benefit displaced GM Lordstown workers in the short term, the long-term impact could potentially be positive.
Although the projected initial employment is a far cry from the thousands who worked at the plant just a few years ago, “It’s a step in the right direction, and it’s in the electric vehicle market, which has a lot of potential,” Ryan remarked. He also envisioned a potential partnership with America Makes, the federal additive manufacturing research hub in downtown Youngstown.
U.S. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he has spoken with Barra and Green about the news. He also thanked Trump for his efforts to find “a positive solution” for the community.
“My message to GM all along has been either to bring a new GM vehicle to the plant or to find a partner that will use this world-class facility so people can get back to work,” Portman said. “I look forward to hearing more from Workhorse about its plans to bring jobs to Lordstown, and I’m hopeful that this news will benefit the workers there.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged caution.
Brown also spoke with Barra following Trump’s tweet. He questioned whether the sale of the plant to Workhorse could make up for the 4,500 GM Lordstown workers laid off or displaced since 2016. Brown also urged GM to provide full details to Ohio workers so they can make an informed decision about whether the sale should go forward.
“It’s still too early to tell whether the proposed sale of Lordstown is good news for workers there. Workhorse is a leader in electric vehicle manufacturing and we are proud to have them call Ohio home, but GM cannot shirk its responsibility to these workers,” Brown said.
Unclear, according to the senator, is how many jobs the sale would create, when they would be created and whether they would pay as much as workers made when the Lordstown plant was operating.
Ryan also cautioned that the deal has yet to be finalized and needed to be vetted to ensure it is a realistic opportunity. “I don’t want to get ahead of our skis,” he remarked. Any deal is contingent on contract discussions with the UAW, he said.
Local 1112’s Green emphasized that his union’s preference is for the plant to remain a GM plant. His goal has been and remains for GM to invest in a future product at the plant. “We’ve been part of the GM family for 53 years and we want to continue to be part of that family,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, was cautious even as he expressed optimism about the potential deal.
“I’m willing to help in any way I can, but before we start to celebrate, I want to see tangible movement and results,” Johnson said. “Like I’ve said before, if GM has no future plans for Lordstown, then they should sell the site to someone who will use it and employ many hardworking, highly skilled folks in the Mahoning Valley. It’s too good of a site location, and our workforce is too skilled, for it to sit empty.”
Among those encouraged by Wednesday’s news is Rick Stockburger, vice president and chief operating officer of the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center in Warren.
“It’s great for the Mahoning Valley,” Stockburger said. “Obviously the trend is moving toward electric vehicles and it’s exciting to have the Valley be at the forefront of that technology.”
Stockburger, who was attending a conference at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Denver, noted during a phone interview that TBEIC has research and development capabilities for batteries for electric vehicles and a grid simulator, as well as Internet of Things capabilities for all the sensors involved with Workhorse trucks.
Also voicing optimism yesterday were state Sens. Sean O’Brien and Michael Rulli.
“Today brought promising news from GM that a new company may be making a significant reinvestment in Lordstown,” O’Brien, D-32 Bazetta, said. “I remain ready and eager to get another product in the Lordstown plant and bring jobs back to our community.”
O’Brien said he and other leaders would continue working with GM and JobsOhio, the state’s economic development corporation, to secure this project.
Rulli, R-33 Salem, also welcomed the potential return of manufacturing jobs to the site.
“I appreciate everyone who worked alongside our region’s leaders to make sure good jobs are available to Mahoning Valley families,” he said. “We are proud of what our workforce offers to potential employers, and I look forward to helping however I can as the details of this possible deal develop.”
Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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