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GM CEO Links Fate of Ohio Plant to Union Talks, Lawmakers Say

Dec. 6, 2018
Mary Barra makes no commitment on plants slated for closure

General Motors Co.’s Chief Executive Mary Barra said in meetings with Ohio lawmakers that the future of a factory in the state slated for closure can turn on the outcome of labor talks.

“We’re trying to make sure that General Motors is strong,” Barra said in brief comments. A strong GM (IW 500/4), she said, is the best way to maintain the company’s 90,000 jobs in the U.S.

Barra scheduled two days in Washington to meet with lawmakers from states hit by the automaker’s announcement last week that it plans to shed close to 15,000 jobs. Four factories in the U.S. and one in Canada could be shuttered by the end of 2019 if the automaker and its unions don’t come up with an agreement to allocate more work to those facilities, GM said in a Nov. 26 statement.

She met with Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Rob Portman, who pushed Barra to save the automaker’s plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM plans to stop producing the slow-selling Chevrolet Cruze compact car at the plant next year, leaving the factory without a product to build.

The United Auto Workers union is holding out hope that Lordstown and other factories that GM has on its list for likely closure can secure work and remain open. The UAW and Detroit’s automakers will start negotiating a new four-year labor pact, which expires in September.

UAW Concessions

GM had conversations with the union last year about making concessions that would give the plant a better chance to stay open, said two people familiar with the matter. UAW Local 1112 had agreed to outsource some skilled trades work in hopes that GM would allocate more work, the people said.

Portman said he and Brown urged Barra to speed up talks. “Both of us want to be sure that both the company and the UAW expedite that as much as possible so there is less uncertainty,” Portman said.

“She has said to us that she is going to keep an open mind but does not want to raise expectations,” Portman said.

In a statement after the meetings, Barra said the discussions were constructive and that she told lawmakers that many hourly workers affected by production cancellations would be offered jobs at other company facilities.

“I share their concerns about the impact the actions we announced last week will have on our employees, their families and the communities,” Barra said in the statement. “These were very difficult decisions -- decisions I take very personally.”

Earlier: GM Plans More Than 14,000 Job Cuts, Seven Factory Closings

David Green, president of Local 1112, which represents workers in Lordstown, said in a phone interview that he has been working with Ohio politicians on both sides of the aisle to raise awareness and work with GM to keep the plant open.

“I’m hopeful that we will get a new product here,” Green said in a telephone interview. “We have a lot going for us here."

Barra also met with Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat whose congressional district is home to the Lordstown plant, and planned to meet Maryland lawmakers. A transmission and electric motor plant outside Baltimore was among the facilities slated for closure next year.

Ryan said she also emphasized with him how the UAW talks could determine whether Lordstown gets another car to build. He rejected President Donald Trump’s threats to take punitive actions against the company, such as ending credits for buyers of electric cars.

“I think any kind of punitive actions, especially with regard to electric vehicles or autonomous vehicles moving forward, is not the right move for the president to promote or anybody else because we want them to be profitable so they have a good solid pension,”Ryan said.

Michigan lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Gary Peters, will meet with Barra on Thursday. GM also plans to close its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant that makes the Chevrolet Impala sedan and Volt plug-in hybrid.

By Ryan Beene and Ari Natter

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