Gov. Whitmer: Meeting with GM's Mary Barra 'in the works'

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday a meeting with General Motors CEO Mary Barra "is in the works" to discuss the Detroit automaker's plans to cut 8,000 salaried employees, idle four U.S. plants and imperil 3,300 hourly workers. 

Asked after walking the floor at the Detroit auto show for the first time as governor if she could report any progress on convincing GM to reverse course on its austerity plans, Whitmer said: "I have not yet met with Mary Barra, I know a meeting is in the works. I did have a brief meeting earlier today with the premier of Ontario, but we did not discuss this particular (topic).

"Michigan jobs are first and foremost on my mind," Whitmer continued. "We need to know that the investment is here and that people are at threat of being displaced or without a job are relocated as quickly as possible and that we’re going to continue to make their investment in Michigan and thrive here." 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer attracts a crowd of journalists as she sits in the drivers seat of a Chevy Bolt ev at the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at Cobo Center in Detroit. The show opens to the public on Saturday.

Weeks before Whitmer took office, GM announced plans to cease production next year at Lordstown, at its Detroit-Hamtramck and Warren Transmission plants in Michigan, at Oshawa Assembly in Ontario and at Baltimore Operations in Maryland. Work will stop next year at predetermined dates, but plants will not officially close. The future of those facilities will be determined during 2019 negotiations with the United Auto Workers union.

The company is planning to lay off nearly 6,000 salaried workers next year after a buyout program last month only had 2,250 takers. The salaried buyouts and the layoffs together will affect 8,000 North American employees and a number of global executives, none of whom are part of the senior leadership team.

GM later attempted to give clarity about what the plant idlings might mean: It expects be able to offer new positions to about 2,700 of those workers through transfers. But some of those workers would have to commute long distances, or even move to other parts of the country. 

Whitmer said Tuesday that she is not convinced GM's decisions are final.

"I’m not convinced of any such thing," she said. "I just want to acknowledge that there are a lot of hard-working people who are worried about what their options are going to be. There’s been messages from the company that there will be other options with the company elsewhere, but what that means I don’t think we have information on that."

Whitmer said her first tour of the North American International Auto Show convinced her that Michigan is well-positioned to attract auto jobs of the future. 

"I am walking this floor marveling at so much of the work that produces the amazing vehicles on this floor happens right here in Michigan," she said. "Michigan is the center of research and development and innovation. You know, connected vehicles, autonomous. This is where mobility of the future is going to continue to be lead from and any company in the mobility space should continue to make a big investment here."

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing