GM's Lordstown closure clouds tentative agreement approval with UAW

Kalea Hall Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dozens of former employees at General Motors Co.'s idled assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, gathered Thursday at the Renaissance Center vowed to vote down any tentative agreement that would close for good the sprawling complex in Northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley.

They'll get their chance as early as next week. About 200 local presidents and shop chairpersons voted to send a new four-year agreement to more than 48,000 UAW-GM members and keep them on their month-long strike until ratification.

“I feel betrayed,” said Anthony Naples, a 25-year GM employee from Youngstown. “I blamed Mary Barra, and now I can’t blame her anymore. It was up to our guys, and they didn't get it done."

Auto worker Todd Piroch, 47, of Local 1112 Lordstown, Ohio, shouts "You are in Mary Barra's pocket" at a UAW official as he leaves the after a six-hour meeting at the Renaissance Center in Detroit Thursday.

The two sides reached a proposed tentative agreement Wednesday that would deliver base-wage increases, uncapped profit-sharing and a path for temporary employees to become permanent even as three U.S. plants will be shuttered.

The agreement confirms the wind-down of three plants identified last November for closure. Those plants include Lordstown Assembly in northeast Ohio, Baltimore Operations in Maryland and Warren Transmission in southeast Michigan. Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly would continue to operate, building a new electric truck.

Lordstown Assembly, however, does have a potential buyer. Lordstown Motors Corp. is a newly formed electric vehicle startup for commercial fleets backed partly by Cincinnati-based Workhorse Group Inc., another electric vehicle startup. It wants to use the plant as its headquarters, research and manufacturing site for an electric truck it plans to call the Endurance. Lordstown Motors founder Steve Burns last week would not verify how many employees the company plans to employ.

GM does plan to build a battery-cell manufacturing plant as a part of a joint venture in the Mahoning Valley, home to Lordstown. The plan would create approximately 1,000 manufacturing jobs, GM spokesman Jim Cain said in an email. The sale of Lordstown and the battery-cell plant, however, do not fall under the proposed tentative agreement.

Karlton Byas, center, marches with other UAW members Thursday outside the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, where he does health and safety training for the UAW. He said they are hopeful and optimistic that the tentative agreement will bring an end to their strike.

"GM is committed to future investment and job growth in the state of Ohio," Cain said.

Other initiatives GM announced for Ohio in May remain on track, he added, including $700 million in new investment in GM's facilities in Parma, Toledo and in the Dayton area.  These projects are expected to create more than 450 manufacturing jobs.

The closure of Lordstown is disappointing, but not unexpected, officials in Ohio said.

"There are hundreds of people across Ohio that have been negatively impacted by this work stoppage," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told The Detroit News in a statement. "We are encouraged that GM plans to move forward with investments in Parma, Toledo, and the Dayton area. However, it is disappointing that GM confirmed the decision to not allocate a product to the Lordstown facility."

Added Democratic Ohio state Sen. Sean O’Brien, who represents Trumbull County, home to Lordstown: “We are going to move forward and continue working on these projects. We could become the battery hub of the future. We have an opportunity here we are going to try and seize on and work for.”

Three vans full of former employees and UAW Local 1112 members drove to Detroit from northeast Ohio and other areas where they’ve been transferred since Lordstown stopped production of the Chevrolet Cruze sedan in March. Since then, 1,381 GM Lordstown employees have transferred to other plants.

As UAW leaders walked past them, heading to the meeting, the members in their red “Allocate Lordstown” shirts yelled: “No product, no vote.”

From left, Scott Brubaker and Hector Colon, both from Local #1112 in Lordstown, Ohio, were among some 40 workers from GM's idled Lordstown plant who encouraged local UAW leaders to vote no on the tentative agreement with GM.

Naples, the UAW member from Youngstown, has yet to accept a transfer to another plant. He’s scared to leave behind his wife, three daughters and a 14-year-old son. He was holding out hope that the plant that produced Chevrolet products for 53 years would get product again.

“With no product for Lordstown, I am for sure voting no," Naples said. "I am really not sure what the strike fixed. We were under the impression that we were going to get product back from Mexico. That’s what we were counting on the international to do.”

The hefty ratification bonus of $11,000 is just a way to get the UAW members to agree to a contract, both Naples and former GM Lordstown employee Tommy Wolikow said.  And pay raises don’t mean much if the UAW can’t guarantee that the product will continue to be built in the U.S., said Wolikow, who now works at the GM Flint plant where they build trucks. 

“If you don’t have allocation here in the U.S., especially at the plant you are working at, it doesn’t matter how high a raise you’re getting,” he said. 

Hector Colon, of Mineral Ridge, a 23-year GM employee who used to work at GM Lordstown as a skilled tradesman, said many people have house payments in the northeast Ohio area and are renting places in areas where they’ve been transferred like Bowling Green, Kentucky; Flint; Lansing; and Wentzville, Missouri.

“For the international to come in and not get something ... that is unbelievable,” he said.

Twitter: @bykaleahall