UAW, GM lawsuit stays in Youngstown

Automaker’s request to transfer case to Michigan denied

LORDSTOWN — A lawsuit alleging General Motors sidestepped an agreement with United Auto Workers with its plans to idle three plants will be heard in Youngstown, not in Michigan.

That’s because a federal judge has denied a request from attorneys for the automaker to transfer the case from Youngstown to federal court in the eastern district of Michigan.

U.S. District Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson ruled GM’s arguments — that for the convenience of the parties and witnesses the case should be moved to the district court in Michigan, where GM and the UAW are headquartered, as well as where the witnesses and parties involved in the decision to idle the plants, including Lordstown, are located — missed their marks.

GM also argued the caseload in in the Michigan court, where district judges oversee as many as 238 civil cases, is lighter than in the northern district of Ohio, which includes Youngstown. Judges in Ohio’s northern district oversee as many as 391 civil cases, according to GM.

Pearson, however, wrote “numbers tell only part of the story.

“While hardworking, the OHND (Ohio Northern District) benefits from having several cases of a similar nature,” Pearson wrote, noting several asbestos cases before the court. Excluding those, the average civil case number for judges in the district drops to 191 at the end of 2017, she wrote.

A motion to dismiss remains pending. GM argues in that request the UAW did not exhaust grievance arbitration procedures contained in its contract, which also bars the union from going to court to settle a contractual dispute while grievances remain open.

The UAW sued GM in February over a breach of contract claim, trying to stop GM from idliing three plants: Lordstown, Baltimore Operations transmission plant in White Marsh, Md., and the Warren Transmission Plant in Warren, Mich. Lordstown stopped production March 6.

The union claims GM cannot idle plants until the collective bargaining agreement the sides have expires Sept. 14 because of a plant closing moratorium they struck in October 2015.

GM has said its decision to unallocate the plants does not violate the provision of the UAW-GM national agreement.

On Wednesday GM announced it is negotiating with a start-up company founded by Steve Burns, ex-CEO of electric truck maker Workhorse near Cincinnati, to buy the Lordstown facility to make electric pickup trucks.

Workhorse, which designs and manufacturers fleet delivery trucks for the likes of FedEx and UPS, would hold a minority interest in the new company. The majority owner would be a yet-to-be-named company owned by Burns.

Mentioning the lawsuit in his response to the news, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said, “General Motors should assign a product to the Lordstown facility and continue operating it.

“A federal lawsuit filed by the UAW over the closing of Lordstown, Baltimore and Warren (Michigan) facilities is still pending, and the UAW will continue its effort to protect the contractual rights of its members at these locations,” Dittes said.

National negotiations are to begin in July.