Lawmakers fight for GM Lordstown plant

Portman meets with company CEO

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple General Motors Lordstown plant employee Tiffany King of Salem talks about assembling the 2019 Chevrolet Cruze last month. Local lawmakers have been pushing GM to make a commitment to the Lordstown plant after two waves of layoffs over an 18-month span have led to only one shift operating there.

The future of the General Motors Lordstown Complex was on the agenda in the nation’s capital Tuesday as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, had a “very frank discussion” with GM CEO Mary Barra about the future of the plant.

The plant, which makes the Chevy Cruze, is down to one shift after cutting the third shift in late 2016 and eliminating its second shift in April.

Portman said he pushed Barra to make a public commitment to reinvest in the Lordstown plant, but Barra said that was a commitment she could not give.

“The workforce deserves to get a new product that sells better,” Portman said.

Second-quarter Cruze sales were down 26.2 percent from last year’s second quarter, even though the Cruze ranked fifth out of 18 in sales among all models in the Chevy brand.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who spoke with Barra June 5, reminded her that taxpayers got the company back on its feet after it filed for bankruptcy in 2009. He also said recent changes in the tax code — a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Donald Trump in December — have benefitted GM.

“GM did very well with the tax cut,” Brown said. “I asked (Barra) to use the tax bill to keep jobs in Ohio.”

While the plant has not secured a commitment on the plant’s future, United Auto Workers Local 1112 president Dave Green, who represents workers at the Lordstown facility, said local leaders continue to fight for the plant’s future.

“People are doing all they can,” said Green, while acknowledging that politicians can’t force GM to do anything. He said local mayors, county commissioners and others have sent letters of support for the plant to decisionmakers at GM. “The members and I appreciate the efforts.”

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, said he last sent a letter to Barra in May. He urged the company to better articulate its needs.

“I hope they would communicate to us what we need to do to get another car and another shift,” said Ryan. “We are ready to work with them to make that happen.”

Ryan added that he is working with both Brown and Portman to secure the complex’s future.

“This is a very important plant for our community, for everybody, business and labor, Democrats and Republicans,” Ryan said.

While trying to secure the future of the plant remains the ultimate goal, Brown and Ryan recently announced a grant from the Department of Labor that will aid laid-off GM workers in finding new employment. The $1.75 million grant will provide approximately 337 of the 1,686 workers affected by GM layoffs with employment and job services.

On the legislative front, Brown introduced the “American Cars, American Jobs Act” last month that would give customers a $3,500 discount on cars made in America. The bill, which has not been assigned to a committee, also would close what Brown’s office calls a “loophole” in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that permits certain overseas profits to be taxed at 10.5 percent. The bill would apply the standard 21 percent corporate tax rate to auto companies that have eliminated American jobs since the tax bill passed.

While grants and legislation can provide much needed aid, Portman said there is really only one solution to the layoffs at the GM plant.

“The answer ultimately is to get people back to work,” said Portman. “And I’m not going to give up.”