GM bashing reaching fever pitch in DC

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — Anger at General Motors Co.' s austerity plans that would idle four U.S. plants, cut 8,000 salaried employees and threaten the jobs of 3,300 hourly workers reached a fever pitch in Washington Thursday, as President Donald Trump continued to flash his anger and House Democrats railed against the automaker.  

Speaking at a press conference called to highlight Trump's campaign promises to auto workers in the areas that would be affected by the plant idlings, Democratic members of the House Congressional Automotive Caucus accused GM of putting profits before people and the Trump administration of creating economic conditions that reward companies for moving factory jobs overseas. 

"We need to, as a Congress, be addressing public policy issues that keep manufacturing in this country," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, a former GM employee who struck a rare note of public anger at her old company. 

"Why am I so mad at General Motors?" Dingell continued. "They moved a Blazer plant from the United States of America to Mexico, and very few people screamed about it or paid attention to it." 

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Dingell said she is "bound and determined" to make sure Congress does not approve the Trump administration's proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement unless it ensures "that we're not moving jobs to Mexico.

"That's what all of us are going to fight for, and that's why we're so upset," she said. "We want strong, healthy manufacturing."    

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, blamed the Trump administration for adding tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum that GM and automakers have cited as a large financial burden. 

"If you make it more expensive to get metal and steel, the profit margin goes down," she said. "You give a tax cut to the corporation, oh by the way we want to make more, so throw away the employee. Not on my watch." 

For the third day, Trump took to Twitter to deflect blame for GM's decision to idle plants and cut jobs. He defended his decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum and a host of Chinese goods. 

"General Motors is very counter to what other auto, and other, companies are doing," Trump tweeted Thursday morning. "Big Steel is opening and renovating plants all over the country. Auto companies are pouring into the U.S., including BMW, which just announced a major new plant. The U.S.A. is booming!" 

Trump added in a subsequent tweet: "Billions of Dollars are pouring into the coffers of the U.S.A. because of the Tariffs being charged to China, and there is a long way to go. If companies don’t want to pay Tariffs, build in the U.S.A. Otherwise, lets just make our Country richer than ever before!" 

Trump is furious at GM for moving to idle plants that produce slow-selling sedans because it undercuts his campaign appeals to voters in Midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio. Victories in those states were central to Trump's 2016 election and they are likely to be hotly contested again in 2020. 

GM said Monday it will cease production next year at its Detroit-Hamtramck and Warren Transmission plants in Michigan, at Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, 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, according to a memo sent to employees by CEO Mary Barra and obtained by The Detroit News. 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.

Trump has threatened a 25-percent tariff on cars imported to the United States in retaliation for GM's decision. He has also threatened to yank electric-car subsidies that are used by GM to make plug-in vehicles more attractive to auto buyers. 

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, whose district includes GM's Lordstown Assembly plant, said the company's decision to idle the facility could result in a ripple effect that will cause as many as 70,000 people to lose their jobs across the supply chain.  

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"This has been a gut punch because obviously when we lost steel and we lost some small, mid-size manufacturers, we always had the GM plant," he said. "This hits home to so many families. There won't be a neighborhood, a church, a Little League baseball team, a booster club, there will not be a school district that will be affected by the loss of this plant in our community. 

Ryan added: "What were trying to say here I think collectively is this has been going on for 30-40 years in our country, and we have been sold a bill of goods on tax policy ... where if you cut taxes for the wealthiest people in the country at a time of maximum profits that somehow is going to trickle down to the communities that we represent."

U.S. Rep.-elect Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, who is assuming the House seat of his father, retiring U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, noted that one of the cars GM is planning to eliminate with the plant idlings is the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. 

"The idea of discontinuing that vehicle ... when we are woefully behind on developing EV charging infrastructure makes no sense to me whatsoever," he said. "We need to move quickly to full electric vehicles and now they're taking away their one transition vehicle and I don't understand that."  

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing