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UAW strikes

Local 1112 members picket at Lordstown plant

Staff photo / Ron Selak Jr. From left, Jeff Kovach of Austintown, John Sandquist Jr. of Austintown and Carolyn Alonso of Reminderville, picket outside the General Motors complex just after midnight today.

LORDSTOWN — It was a few minutes after the stroke of midnight Sunday when upward of 200 former General Motors Lordstown workers set up picket lines outside the idled plant, joining 49,000 other United Auto Workers who walked off the job as contract talks with the automaker stalled.

The singular reason why — solidarity, even as several in the crowd are preparing for their transfer to the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Ky., in the next couple weeks.

“This is all solidarity,” said Sam Alonso, captain of the group of 13 or so pickets outside the plant’s truck entrance on Hallock Young Road. “We’ve got a mix of different unions that came together. We’re all here for the same thing, and that’s job security.”

Alonso of Reminderville, between Twinsburg and Aurora, is a retiree; it’s his wife, Carolyn, who with 25 years at the Lordstown plant, is going to work in Kentucky. The couple are making the arrangements for the move now.

“We have been calling it Lordstown 2.0 because there are like 400 of us there,” said Carolyn Alonso.

Workers shut down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states across the U.S., as well as 22 parts distribution warehouses. UAW Local 1112 set up pickets around the shuttered Lordstown plant, lit burn barrels and raised canopies in the black of night. Each person held a sign supportive of the UAW.

It wasn’t clear how long the walkout would last, with the union saying GM has budged little in months of talks while GM said it made substantial offers including higher wages and factory investments.

It’s the first national strike by the union since a two-day walkout in 2007 that had little impact on the company.

Before the talks broke off, GM offered to open an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown, which was idled after the last Chevrolet Cruze came off the assembly line, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The new factory would be in addition to a proposal to make electric vehicles for a company called Workhorse, the person told the Associated Press.

Lordstown Motors Corp., an affiliate with Cincinnati-based Workhorse, is in talks with GM to buy the sprawling complex to produce fleet-style pickup trucks. If the sale happens, Lordstown Motors officials have told local officials they want production to begin as early as late 2020.

Dan Morgan, shop chairman for Local 1112, said he had no further details about the battery plant proposal, but union leadership in Detroit, where he had been earlier Sunday, was upset GM made a proposal with little time before the contract expired at 11:59 p.m.

Had it been offered earlier, a strike may have been averted, “but they (GM) just put them up against a wall,” Morgan said.

GM also offered to build a new all-electric pickup truck at a factory in Detroit that is slated to close next year, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to disclose details of the negotiations.

It’s unclear how many workers the two plants would employ. The closures, especially of the Lordstown plant, have become issues in the 2020 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized the company and demanded that Lordstown be reopened.

John Sandquist Jr. of Austintown said zero information has came back to the local from negotiations.

“(It’s been) silence. Normally you hear things seeping through,” said Sandquist, who’s also leaving to work at the Bowling Green, Ky., plant.

The pickets will remain outside the plants gates 24 / 7 in shifts of four hours, said Morgan.

“Up until we get a fair agreement, we’re going to say out here,” said Morgan.

Night shift workers at an aluminum castings factory in Bedford, Ind., that makes transmission casings and other parts shut off their machines and headed for the exits, said Dave Green, former Local 1112 president. He said he agrees with the strike over wages, plant closures and other issues.

“If we don’t fight now, when are we going to fight?” he asked. “This is not about us. It’s about the future.”

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, the union’s top GM negotiator, said a strike is the union’s last resort but is needed because both sides are far apart in negotiating a new four-year contract. The union, he said Saturday, does not take a strike lightly.

GM, however, said it offered pay raises and $7 billion worth of U.S. factory investments resulting in 5,400 new positions, a minority of which would be filled by existing employees. GM would not give a precise number. The company also said it offered higher profit sharing, “nationally leading” health benefits and an $8,000 payment to each worker upon ratification.

Talks were scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today.

The union’s contract with GM expired Saturday night, but pacts with the company’s crosstown rivals, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, were extended indefinitely. The union has picked GM as its target company this year, and any deal it negotiates will be used as a template for the others. GM was picked because it’s the most profitable of the three, and because its plans to close four U.S. factories have angered union members.

On Sunday, about 200 plant-level leaders voted unanimously to strike against GM if no deal could be reached by Sunday night. Although talks were halted over the weekend, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said there was still dialogue.

Rothenberg said UAW was striking for fair wages, affordable health care, profit sharing, job security and a path to permanent employment for temporary workers.

GM has factories in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.

A strike would bring to a halt GM’s U.S. vehicle and parts production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.

Analysts at Cox Automotive said GM has enough vehicles on dealer lots to last about 77 days at the current sales pace. That’s well above the industry average of 61. But supplies of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban large SUVs, which generate big money for the company, are well below the industry average.

This year’s talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because of GM’s plan to close four U.S. factories, including the one on the Detroit border with the enclave of Hamtramck, as well as Lordstown and factories in Warren, Mich., and near Baltimore.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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