Workers Face Uncertainty After GM Decision
LORDSTOWN, Ohio – Michelle Ripple of Hubbard arrived at work Monday morning and greeted it as another routine day at General Motors’ Lordstown Complex. She left eight hours later uncertain of her future and the future of her family.
“I need this job,” Ripple said. “I have a daughter that’s a diabetic, and I’m a diabetic. I love working out here and I take pride in what I do out here.”
Ripple is among 1,500 hourly workers who learned yesterday morning that GM had decided to eliminate production of the Chevrolet Cruze, the sole product manufactured at the plant, by March 1, 2019. At 3 p.m., a stream of vehicles started to pour out of the Lordstown Complex as the plant’s sole shift came to a close, none of them in the mood to speak with reporters.
“There were a lot of people crying,” Ripple said when the bad news was delivered around 9:30 Monday morning. “They told us down the road that they’ll give us more information on what’s going on.”
Ripple has worked at Lordstown for 18 years, and she thinks the company has let the workers down. However, she is leaving some room for optimism that by the spring, GM would have found another product that could be manufactured at the complex and at least save some of the jobs there.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed, and hope by March, the company can get a new product in here and save our jobs,” she said.
Meanwhile, all Ripple and the others can do is wait. “There are too many people out here that depend on these jobs and have families like me,” she says.
Workers were told the closing is part of a global restructuring plan that calls for the shutdown of three assembly plants – two in the United States and one in Canada – and two transmission plants, one in Michigan and one in Maryland.
GM opened its Lordstown manufacturing complex in 1966 and two years later constructed a metals stamping plant to make parts for an array of vehicles. At one point, the plant employed nearly 14,000. It produced high-volume small cars such as the Chevrolet Impala, the Pontiac Sunfire, the Chevrolet Cobalt and most recently, the Cruze.
Yet the last several years have seen sales and production of the fuel-sipping Cruze plummet amid lower gas prices and consumers’ transition to larger automobiles such as trucks, SUVs and crossovers. Last year, GM announced it would eliminate the third shift at the plant, and earlier this year, announced it would eliminate the second shift there, leaving about 1,500 employed at the plant.
In responding to GM’s announcement, the United Auto Workers Union said it would “confront this decision by GM through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership.”
Said Terry Dittes, UAW vice president, “GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days. These decisions are a slap in the face to the memory and recall of that historical American made bailout.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, has asked the House Ways and Means Committee to look into how General Motors spent the savings it achieved from passage of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act. In a letter to outgoing committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and the Massachusetts Democrat who is line to chair the tax panel, Rep. Richard Neal, Ryan wrote, “The American people deserve to know if the tax cuts they paid for are being used to inflate corporate profits at the expense of their economic security and the survival of American workers.”
The aftershocks of Lordstown’s closing would have far reaching repercussions throughout the entire Mahoning Valley, said John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. Russo is also the former co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University.
“It’s going to be devastating,” Russo said. While the Mahoning Valley has already witnessed its share of communities and neighborhoods hollowed out because of factory closures, losing Lordstown would have a dramatic immediate impact across the entire region, especially the suburbs. “Austintown, for example, was built on autoworkers.”
Russo said that for every manufacturing job created at Lordstown, another two jobs are created in the local economy, whether it’s service related or affiliated with the plant’s supply chain.
“It’ll mean more job losses, which contributes to the schools, services such as police and fire, retail — all of that is on the table,” he said.
Jose Arroyo, who represents about 180 workers at Comprehensive Logistics in Austintown through the United Steelworkers union, said the company has no other choice but to shut down its operations when GM Lordstown closes.
“As GM goes, so goes Comprehensive Logistics,” he said. The company provides sequencing services for the Lordstown plant and the Chevrolet Cruze. “The leadership and the membership are not taking this well. There’s a lot of anxiety going into the holiday season.”
Three years ago, Comprehensive Logistics employed nearly 600, Arroyo said. That number has dwindled to 180 as a result of sluggish Cruze sales.
Both his membership and the UAW have survived downturns before, Arroyo said, adding he hopes that the plant can be saved.
“This is a tough one,” he acknowledged. “We’ve always done what we needed to do. Honestly, I think the future of the plant depends on the legislators’ ability to show the plant’s value to the local economy.”
Russo noted that the generous tax breaks that large corporations such as GM received as a result of the new tax law allowed these companies to invest more money in overseas operations rather reinvest in domestic plants, evidenced by GM’s decision to manufacture a small SUV in Mexico the very day it announced the elimination of the second shift at Lordstown.
Moreover, Russo said President Trump could reverse the impact by slapping a 25% import duty on vehicles manufactured in Mexico and shipped into the United States.
“This was a short-term decision by GM to hoard cash and make investments offshore,” Russo observed.
Russo fears the Lordstown closure will spur more apathy among working-class voters, many of who turned to Trump during the 2016 election.
“I think it will increase the level of cynicism and withdrawal from civic engagement,” he said.
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Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.