Mayor: 'Hamtramck is an afterthought' to General Motors

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — Hamtramck leaders are calling on General Motors Co. officials to address the indefinite idling of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and plan for the facility's future.

Mayor Karen Majewski listened at the Hamtramck Public Library on Saturday as her constituents expressed worries on how the plant closure will affect the city. 

"In the end, it’s only going to be an economic decision, not one that takes into consideration our families, jobs, schools and safety," Majewski told The Detroit News. "They did this in 1980 when they destroyed homes to build the facility. Did GM care? No, they sacrificed little old ladies, their churches and homes for that plant.

"They did not care and I don’t think there’s any reason they do now," she said emotionally. "Hamtramck is an afterthought."

A potential plant closing would cut $850,000 annually from the Hamtramck city budget, and $115,000 from schools as a result of the 1,500 jobs that could be eliminated if the GM plant fails to get a reprieve and win new products.

Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer said the plant closing would directly impact jobs, education and health care.

Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer said the plant closing would directly impact jobs, education and health care. 

"GM is going to be blamed for what happens here," Angerer said to the crowd. "They have been the recipent of federal dollars during the bailout, they've posted record profits and yet they're pulling out of the most impovershed community in the state of Michigan. The most diverse community, dense community and a community that has the most two-parent families in the state."

Angerer said she believes the facility will sit empty because they have been told it is too expensive to rehab. 

"Will it be a factory left with the MDEQ coming in and telling us we have hotspots, contaminated ground left to ruin or will GM repurpose it? It's a possibility, but we haven't heard that yet," Angerer said. "Should they close, GM would be directly responsible should our emergency responders be reduced because of the loss in tax. ... We don't know what's going to happen there, but this community is strong."

GM officials did not immediately respond for comment on Saturday.

Tensions rose at the meeting when Jerry White, editor of the autoworkers newsletter, encouraged residents to take the struggle of the UAW's hands and launch a national strike. 

"We're fighting massive corporations and capitalism. ... If there's going to be a fight, it has to come from the working class ourselves," White said. "Now, on Sept. 15, the contracts for 150,000 autoworkers are expiring. Workers want to fight and in the last contract they rebelled against the UAW, they voted down the contract."

White called out former UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, who was recently caught accepting thousands of dollars in illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles executives.

Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly is one of five GM plants in North America slated to stop production in the coming months. The plant stopped building the Buick LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Volt on Feb. 15 and was originally scheduled to stop all production June 1. But GM last month extended the plant's production of the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala through January 2020.

Majewski told The News she was proud that the city was at the forefront building electronic cars like the Volt.

"We didn’t see this coming because the whole push nationally has been toward sustainability, electronic manufacturing," Majewski said. "Manufacturing the Volt was a real point and pride that we were at the forefront of a new era of car making and to see it abandoned was really surprising. ... It didn’t sell as well as it should, but it should have sold a lot better. To go back to SUVs? That’s (bull----)."

Activist Bill Meyer said there was a tremendous fight to prevent the plant from opening on the 300-acre site then home to a Polish neighborhood known as Poletown.

"So many years later and we're fighting to keep them there. What happened?" said Meyer, 74. "The bottom line for these corporations is to make a profit."

Because only one-third of the facility's land belongs to Hamtramck, Meyer says they need to expand their struggle with everyone affected.

"How much taxes is Detroit losing in this? Those people are suffering too,” said Meyer, who was born in Detroit. “There’s a racial difference and we have to overcome that issue. The best solution here is to expand our struggle and join with Detroit and Highland Park. We’re losing taxes for sure, but anyone who is affected by our economy is the victim. Corporations are focused on making a profit so if we can hit them in the wallet, that’s the best way."

Shaffwan Ahmed, who grew up in Hamtramck, said residents should be concerned with the chemicals left behind at the plant.

Shaffwan Ahmed, who grew up in Hamtramck, said residents should be concerned with the chemicals left behind at the plant.

“Hopefully, they’re not going to leave it like the Packard company that folded and left behind God knows what kind of chemicals on the land right now," said Ahmed, 30. "If they’re going to leave and abandoned that building, we’re going to be left with the carcass... We’d like to see more mixed-use property for small businesses. We need to incorporate more natural space and we want them to remediate it of what they’ve done."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_