Community activist holds vigil outside closing auto plant

Photo by R. Michael Semple Community activist and organizer Werner Lange of Newton Falls, right, gets a big hug and a gift of money from United Auto Workers Local 1112 President Dave Green for his support of the GM Lordstown workers.

LORDSTOWN — Community activist and organizer Werner Lange has stood vigil outside the General Motors assembly complex for 43 days to support the employees inside.

They saw him on Ellsworth Bailey Road as they left for home at the end of their shift.

About 150 of the employees on Wednesday, the last day of production of the Lordstown-built Chevrolet Cruze, gave Lange back some love.

His constant presence “gave all of them a little bit of hope,” said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112.

Local UAW members took up a collection that Green gave to Lange as a token of appreciation.

“Today and for the last 43 days, Werner Lange has been out here, not a GM worker, not a retiree, but supporting our workers, and I know as those people drove by on their way home and saw him standing out here, that gave them all a little bit of hope,” Green said. “I know you’re not out here for money, and it’s not about the money, but that’s what we can do and we’re going to continue to give back and we’re never going to forget the support.”

Lange said he was humbled by the gesture.

“These 43 days of a vigil here have been for the workers, have been for the communities, have been for, really, America because we are at a threshold now where the corporate greed we have been witnessing has to end,” said Lange, of Newton Falls.

“I’ve been flying an American flag here because it’s about the spirit of ’76, it’s about the spirit of America the beautiful and I have witnessed it coming to life here during this vigil,” Lange said. “I just know that with that spirit, with that power, we can turn what looks like an American tragedy into an American triumph for labor and finally save this plant and turn America back to where it was when working people had a fighting chance.”

The 53-year-old facility in Lordstown where the Cruze has been produced since 2010 is the first of five North American plants GM will idle this year as it moves toward greater production of SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles.

Last week, Lange stood along Hallock Young Road near a large solar panel array at the plant to call on GM to assign an emissions-free vehicle to the plant. It’s a proposal many have made to the automaker as it continues its push toward becoming more green.

In GM’s restructuring process, it is shedding 14,000 salaried and blue-collar jobs, but the automaker has said most of those workers who lose jobs in the U.S. can transfer to other plants in the Midwest and South.