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Lawmakers plan to keep pressure on to reopen Lordstown GM plant

By Liz Skalka • Mar 9, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Although Lordstown workers have finished making their final Chevrolet Cruze, the fight to keep the northeast Ohio plant from permanently shuttering appears far from idled.

Ohio lawmakers from both parties said they’ll continue to pressure General Motors to produce another vehicle at the Youngstown-area plant, where a final white Cruze rolled off the line in mid-afternoon draped in an American flag.

While the immediate fallout is contained to northeast Ohio, the closure has reverberated throughout a state that’s a center of auto manufacturing. Nearly 66 percent of North American light-vehicle production happens in Ohio or within 500 miles, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.

With gas prices consistently low, sedans like the Cruze have fallen out of favor with consumers, who prefer SUVs to compact cars.

Unlike most other political issues, keeping Lordstown running and preserving 1,400 jobs is something Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have gotten behind.

“For the first time in nearly 100 years, GM will not have an assembly plant in Ohio, so this is a sad day for our state,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman said.

“For decades, workers in the Mahoning Valley made a commitment to GM, dedicating their lives to this company and turning Lordstown into an award-winning plant. GM’s decision to shut down production at the plant not only impacts the workers at Lordstown and their families, but thousands of others in the Mahoning Valley who work for suppliers and other businesses that support the plant. I remain incredibly frustrated and disappointed with GM’s decision, but I’m not giving up on this plant and these workers.”

Portman said at least one of the 20 new electric vehicle models GM expects to build by 2023 should be produced in Lordstown.

“I will continue to press GM executives to recommit to Lordstown, do the right thing by these workers who have given so much to this company, and bring new production to this plant,” he said.

While the Cruze will continue to be a part of the Chevy lineup, the vehicle will continue to be manufactured in China, South Korea, Argentina, and Mexico.

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said the plant, which has been around for 53 years, has often been refashioned to produce different vehicles.

“The plant has been retooled more than half a dozen times. They can retool the plant to make those cars in Ohio. They chose not to,” Brown said, referring to GM’s decision to make the new Chevy Blazer in Mexico.

He also noted that GM revealed plans this week to close its West Chester Township processing center, costing Butler County 100 jobs.

“We know how devastating that is for the workers, their families, for local business and the entire community,” Brown said. “It means teacher layoffs, it means stores have less business.”

Brown and Portman together met with GM CEO Mary Barra after the closure was announced in November. They have also co-authored op-eds and sent letters to Barra, publicly calling on GM to not leave northeast Ohio in the lurch.

In January, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine — who some state legislators criticized for not mentioning Lordstown in his State of the State address this week — met with Barra at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where he sat in a cherry-red new Jeep Gladiator produced in Toledo.

So far, Barra hasn’t given any indication that Lordstown will rebound. Some 400 of the plant’s workers have accepted transfers.

DeWine said after the auto show that other manufacturers may be interested in acquiring the plant, and that GM seemed open to helping install someone else at its facility.

“Today is a day no one in the Mahoning Valley or anywhere in Ohio wanted to see come to pass,” DeWine said in a statement Wednesday. “My administration is still continuing our call for GM to place a new product at Lordstown or to sell the facility to another manufacturer who can continue to utilize the great workers and great facility we have in the Mahoning Valley. The state of Ohio stands ready to do whatever we can, through JobsOhio and any other incentives, to help make this happen.”

The grassroots Drive It Home Ohio campaign, which is co-chaired by the president of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at Lordstown, plans to continue advocating for jobs while the plant is idled.

“Since 1966, GM Lordstown has been a pillar in our community. Generations of northeast Ohioans have worked at this facility and have dedicated their lives to making the best quality cars. But today, GM Lordstown is closing. Our community is devastated. Thousands are heartbroken,” northeast Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat, said on Twitter.

“But many more still have hope. We must keep pushing. I am still focused on working with Mary Barra, President Trump, and Ohio leaders to bring a new product to Lordstown. I'm not giving up, and neither should you.”

On Wednesday, Brown reintroduced his “American Cars, American Jobs” Act.

"We know how devastating that is for the workers, for their families, for local businesses, for the entire community. We also know it doesn’t have to be this way,” Brown said. “We need to overhaul our trade and tax policy, and end this corporate business model where companies like GM close American plants, collect a tax break to move overseas, only to sell those cars back into the U.S. That’s why I’m reintroducing the American Cars, American Jobs Act.”

Brown’s “American Cars, American Jobs” Act would:

• Give customers a $3,500 discount when they buy cars made in America and a $4,500 discount if that American car is electric or a plug-in hybrid;

• Revoke a special GOP tax cut on overseas profits for auto manufacturers that ship jobs overseas.

Brown added a provision that would incentivize the purchase of electric cars after GM announced their intention to launch more than 20 new zero-emissions vehicles by 2023. Brown is encouraging GM to bring one of those products to Lordstown.

Brown said his bill would benefit Ohio companies and workers throughout the auto supply chain. The legislation would put U.S.-made cars on equal footing with foreign-made vehicles and update the tax code to remove incentives for auto companies to offshore jobs.

Nearly 100 vehicles, including all passenger vehicles made in Ohio, qualify for the $3,500 rebate based on the 2018 American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) list. Six of the nine U.S.-manufactured electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the AALA list qualify for the $4,500 rebate.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) released a statement Thursday after the Commerce Department announced the United States posted an $891.2 billion trade deficit in 2018, the largest in the nation’s 243-year history.

The Commerce Department also announced the trade deficit with China hit a record $419 billion. Economists have agreed that the record trade deficit has been exacerbated by President Trump and the Republican Party’s $1.5 trillion corporate tax cut, which was signed into law in 2017, she said.

“President Trump made a promise that manufacturing jobs would flow back into the industrial Midwest and wages would rise like never before,” Kaptur said. “Instead, President Trump has not only failed to uphold that promise, his policies have directly led to an explosion in the national trade deficit, manufacturing plants shutting down, and wages literally getting cut in half.

“Clearly no one in President Trump’s Administration has explained to him that bad trade deals, tariffs against our allies, and tax cuts for the wealthy lead to trade deficits, lost jobs, and reduced wages for average Americans. I would be glad to show President Trump around Northern Ohio so he can see firsthand how his trade policies wreak havoc upon working class communities.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Norwalk Reflector contributed to this story.

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