With Contract Agreement, Hope Dims for GM Lordstown

LORDSTOWN, Ohio – As General Motors works to consolidate its excess capacity, the closure and potential selling of the GM Lordstown Complex doesn’t come as a surprise, said James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. 

While GM looks to shutter the place where it’s produced vehicles in the Mahoning Valley for the past 53 years, “I think there’s a bright spot in all of this,” he said.

“And that’s they’re looking at potentially a $1 billion investment in the Mahoning Valley to produce the first of its kind battery production facility in North America,” Dignan continued. “We thought it would be part of the current facility, but apparently that’s not it.”

Such an investment keeps Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley a part of the automotive industry and keeps a GM presence in the area, but “it’s just going to look and feel different,” he said. And with GM committing to producing more than 20 electric vehicles, along with the Lordstown Energy Center seen as the electrical-generation “power plant of the future,” Dignan said “that bodes well” for the Valley.

As for the Lordstown complex, Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns is still in negotiations with GM to purchase the more than 6.2 million-square-foot plant to manufacture electric trucks there, Dignan said. The company still eyes production to begin by the end of 2020 and “they’re eager to get moving forward,” he said.

During the keynote panel of Brite Energy Innovators’ Energy Storage Building Efficiency conference in September, Burns said he plans to use union labor at the plant, although no discussions have taken place.

That may be cold comfort to UAW workers who haven’t yet been displaced, yet are now all but assured that they’ll have to leave the area to remain with GM. Leaders of UAW Local 1112 who represent workers in Lordstown have indicated it’s “a ‘no’ vote from them” if GM’s latest deal includes the shuttering of the Lordstown plant, Dignan noted. 

“We’re extremely disappointed that we didn’t get a product out of the contract,” said Tim O’Hara, president of UAW Local 1112, to the Associated Press following about six hours of talks between the union’s national leadership and local presidents and shop chairman.

“I think a lot of people in the room realized what happened to us can happen to anybody,” he said.

As he and other leaders filed into their meeting Thursday morning, they were greeted by workers from GM Lordstown workers chanting, “No product, no vote” as they went into their six-hour meeting.

The UAW’s contract summary for hourly workers can be read here.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said in a statement that GM’s decision to build a battery plant and Lordstown Motors’ intention to build pickups at the assembly plant was still “uncertain and may not bring enough jobs to replace the GM jobs that have left.

“GM has been a part of our community for over half a century. Generations of northeast Ohioans have worked at the Lordstown plant, and every person in our community has a connection to GM Lordstown. It’s why today’s decision from GM to leave the community is so devastating and reopens wounds from their first announcement in November 2018,” Ryan continued. “While I support bringing an end to this strike and getting our workers back on the job, it’s a sad day in the Valley. I will continue to fight to make the best of a tragic situation by getting Lordstown back up and running with a new occupant to bring high-paying jobs to northeast Ohio.”

In his statement, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said: “I trust UAW members to make the decision that’s best for them and I in no way want to influence their vote. I’ve fought side by side with Lordstown workers after GM unilaterally closed their plant. I will continue to stand behind GM’s workers and the Lordstown community to push GM to honor the dignity of work.”

Picketing workers have covered the fences at GM Lordstown with signs. Per the national union’s agreement with GM, the plant will close and a battery plant will be built in the Mahoning Valley.

From the picket line outside the Lordstown Complex Thursday, 34-year plant worker Mike Kudlousky said he didn’t hold much hope that the UAW’s national membership would turn down the offer. Beginning Saturday, the 49,000 individual members of the UAW will vote to ratify the contract, a process that’s expected to be completed by Oct. 25, according to the Associated Press.

“It’ll probably get approved because the people at other plants who are younger are going to see that signing bonus,” Kudlousky said. “You think when they see that, they’re going to worry about Lordstown?”

Per the agreement, workers would get an $11,000 signing bonus when the contract is ratified.

Counter to Kudlousky, however, Richard Marsh said he was confident that the members would not ratify the agreement.

“Absolutely. I’m hoping they send it back to the table,” he said.

Where the two agreed was to blame GM’s management. Both pointed to Lordstown’s success over the decades, as well as other automakers bringing products back to the United States in recent years.

“If Ford can bring products back from Mexico, then GM damn sure can. You can’t tell me the management at Ford is that much smarter and more frugal than General Motors’ management,” Marsh said. “How can they bring stuff back to this country while GM struggles to do it? If they can’t figure it out, we need different management.”

Added Kudlousky: “I knew that Hamtramck got an extension, they were going to get a truck. If GM can build an electric truck in Hamtramck, why couldn’t they do it here? If we had the Blazer here – which they announced would be made in Mexico the same day they cut second shift here – it would sell like dynamite.”

As part of the new national contract, GM will build an electric pickup truck at the plant in Hamtramck near Detroit. The other plants placed on “unallocated” status last year – the Baltimore Operations and Warren Transmission in the Detroit suburbs, alongside Lordstown – will be closed.

Whatever is in the future for the Lordstown Complex, the UAW members on the picket line said the only option, in their eyes, is a new model produced at the plant.

“This plant’s 53 years old. It has a lot of options left for it,” Kudlousky said. “They come in here with Lordstown Motors or Workhorse or whatever company that wants it, they have to be in the back door with them. They want to build a battery plant around here. That’s going to hire less people at half the rate.”

Joining Kudlousky at the plant’s Gate 5, Shawn Laughlin said General Motors’ pace in making its decision is what hurts the Mahoning Valley most. In November 2016, the company cut third shift at the plant and in June 2018, ended the second shift. Four months later, the announcement came down that GM Lordstown would be “unallocated.” The final Cruze came off the assembly line on March 6.

“That’s the hard part. These guys could have gotten different offers if they closed earlier. I could have gotten a different offer,” said Laughlin, who worked at the plant 25 years. “The whole Valley could have structured itself differently. When they got bailed out in 2008, the UAW stepped up and said, ‘We’ll go along with a wage freeze and all this other stuff.’ We knew it was important to keep this place here. Well, it’s their time to step up and they faltered at each step.”

Jeremy Lydic contributed reporting to this story.

Pictured: Shawn Laughlin, Mike Kudlousky, Gary West and Walter Phelps are among the autoworkers on the picket line at GM Lordstown. All have at least 25 years experience at the plant.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.