Labor Voices: GM leaves workers' futures uncertain

Gary Jones

The focus of General Motors’ November announcement shutting down plants in Lordstown, Ohio; Hamtramck and Warren, Michigan; and Baltimore, Maryland shouldn’t be about money. It should be about people.

UAW Local 22, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant electrician Paul Meszaros, of Dearborn, says, 'We'll work for heat right now," as he joins others at a candlelight vigil at Hart Plaza, Friday evening, January 18, 2019. UAW and Canadian Unifor workers protest the projected closings of GM plants.

UAW GM members are dedicated and committed to making a great product, supporting the success of a company, and supporting a solid, prosperous community.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it's playing out. UAW GM members are facing the disruption of their families.

On that morning of Nov. 26, Detroit resident Angelique Noble -- an assembler at General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant -- sat down with her usual morning coffee to watch the television news. As she looked at the screen, her phone began to ring almost simultaneously with the newscaster telling Angelique, along with the rest of the world, that her life was about to change.

That’s how Angelique learned she would soon be out of a job and possibly need to move to another state. The announcement means the 47-year-old and her fiancé will be postponing their June wedding and living in limbo. There’s a possibility she may be relocated to a Flint or Lansing plant, an hours-long commute on a daily basis, but she’s concerned it will mean a new state.

“My future is uncertain. But my fiancé has a 15-year-old daughter here, and I can’t get married and then move to another state, if that is where my next job takes me,” she says. “It was a slap in the face to find out this way … And now I’m just waiting on a bunch of maybes. I can’t live my life on maybes.”

Dave Bishop, a quality inspector at the Lordstown facility in Youngstown, Ohio, was told in person at a factory meeting that same day. Six years away from retirement, Dave thought his biggest concern would be helping his four children, and grandson, make their way into successful, happy lives. Now, he and his wife are wondering whether they’ll need to pick up and move to Missouri … Kentucky … or if he’ll even find a place to fulfill his retirement goals.

In fact, GM is a major importer of their own brands from China, Canada and Mexico now sold in the United States. This year, through October, GM produced 726,000 vehicles in Mexico. Most of those vehicles were shipped to the U.S. for sales.

Lordstown and Hamtramck employees are not victims of changing consumer demand. They are victims of GM’s decisions to load up their Mexican plants at the expense of their U.S. plant.

Funny thing is -- GM’s UAW workers are diehards and, even in the face of an uncertain future, they went back to work on that November day.

Bishop says fellow employees hugged, talked about their shock, then returned to work on the line. He says he saw a teardrop fall on a car, but the employee kept doing her job, staying strong.

“We built good cars that day, like we do every day,” Dave says.

His cohort at the Hamtramck plant, Robert Patton, says one of the most confusing things to him is how a company can turn its back on dedicated employees who produce quality.

“We make quality products and take pride in what we do. We’ve shown this company that we are invested and can work through any situation and come out on top. Why would GM want to go anywhere else when they know they will get the best job done here?”

Indeed, Robert. Why?

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.