Lordstown GM plant goes idle

Photo by Kasey King A large group of United Auto Workers 1112 members gathered around the American and UAW flags inside the General Motors Lordstown plant on Wednesday after the last Chevrolet Cruze left the assembly line.

LORDSTOWN — General Motors employees outside the Lordstown assembly complex after the last Chevrolet Cruze came off the line Wednesday expressed having mixed emotions as the compact car passed through their work area.

Sickness. Sadness. Anger. Anxiety. Frustration.

“Usually when we see cars go off the end of the line and there is nothing behind it, it’s because we are going into a changeover to a new model. We all know that we watched that car go off and we don’t know if anything is ever going to run down that line again,” said Dan Morgan, United Auto Workers Local 1112 shop chairman. “And watching the people cry because the biggest thing is that people don’t understand why this is happening to them.

“There has been no explanation from the company, there has been no explanation from the plant manager or from the personnel director. They haven’t sat down with the people and explained to them the situation. In 2017, we went back in and took concessions here locally just to make this car profitable, and they were supposed to see those numbers on the 2019 model. We only built the car for three months and then they pulled the plug on it,” Morgan said.

Production of the last Cruze — a white LS model with black interior that’s headed for a Chevrolet dealership in Florida — wrapped about 2:45 p.m., potentially signaling the end of automaking at the sprawling 53-year-old facility.

It’s the first GM plant of five in North America the automaker plans to idle by the end of the year as it shifts focus toward making trucks, SUVs, and electric and autonomous vehicles. In the process, GM is shedding 14,000 salaried and blue-collar jobs, but the automaker has said most of its blue-collar workers who lose jobs in the U.S. will be able to transfer to other plants in the Midwest and South.

A total of 411 Lordstown employees who volunteered to transfer have been placed in jobs elsewhere so far. That is in addition to the 297 who left after the second production shift went away in June.

The last day for two other U.S. plants is May 3 for the Baltimore Operations transmission plant in White Marsh, Md., and Aug. 1 for the Warren Transmission Plant in Warren, Mich.

The company recently announced the fourth U.S. plant, Detroit-Hamtramck, that was to be idled on June 1, will continue production of the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6 into January 2020. The fifth plant is in Canada and does not employ UAW members.

About 1,600 employees work at the Lordstown plant that, at one time, employed about 10,000.

One hundred fifty or so employees met in the bitter cold Wednesday afternoon near Hallock Young and Ellsworth Bailey roads.

“It’s pretty unbelievable what is going with the greed,” said Casey Waldorf, who worked the dashboard line. “There is no reason we could not keep building this car here, at least for the length of the contract.”

“But we all have got to stick together and stay strong. We’ve got good leadership. I feel confident in the bargaining unit we have here. I’m confident in the team that we have. We just have to hold on and be strong,” said Waldorf.

The fate of the plant — whether it will remain open with a new vehicle or close for good — will be determined in the next round of contract talks between the UAW and GM later this year. Their contract expires Sept. 14.

Part of it is at the center of a federal lawsuit to try to keep the plant open. The lawsuit alleges GM sidestepped the agreement by closing the plant now when it memorialized in October 2015 another pact not to close any plant through the duration of the UAW / GM contract.

Waldorf said he plans to enroll in culinary school, not volunteer to transfer. He’s not done with GM and will move to another facility, but only when is he forced to do so.

“I can’t sever my ties with GM,” Waldorf said. “I put too many years in here. I will have to follow them and leave my children here.”

Mark Franko of Cortland, a tool-and-die maker inside the plant, has 28 years with GM and knows what he has to do if another vehicle isn’t assigned to the facility, but it breaks his heart.

“There’s only one thing on the table for me to do. I need to continue on and finish to get my time in to retire,” said Franko.

That means leaving his wife and two sons, one a sophomore in high school and the other in college.

“I don’t know,” is what Franko said when asked how the family can do it.

“I don’t want to disrupt my family … I’m doing it for my family. It’s easier for me to do it,” he said, rather than uprooting everyone to follow him to another plant.

“It’s tough because everybody is going through it. There are some people in different situations, some have younger kids than myself. Sometimes that is easier, sometimes it is not. A lot of people are from this area, their families, their parents and grandparents, they are connected in that way. It’s tough to break that kind of a bond, the family bond. Family is what everything is supposed to be centered around, focused on. It’s tough when you start tearing that apart,” Franko said.

Franko will keep working for about two more weeks to stamp replacement service parts like hoods and doors.

When that’s done, the dies will be prepared for storage, he said.

Shaun Winkler of North Jackson has put in for transfers to GM plants in Toledo and Fort Wayne, Ind. He’s also enrolled at ETI Technical College in Niles to learn the welding trade.

“I’m mad, I’m upset, there is a lot of uncertainty. I don’t know what’s next really,” said Winkler, who worked in chassis.

He said the finality of the Cruze hit him as the last one passed by after he installed the coolant bottle. He looked back and there wasn’t another car in line.

“There was a lot of tears through the plant, a lot of people hugging, you might not see each other again,” said Winkler.

Tom Davis of Girard cleaned out his lockers, talked with some co-workers and called his wife, Tiffany, a teacher at Lordstown Local Schools, after he finished his work in the trim department.

“She’s more beat up about it than I am. I’ve been out here 20 years, dealt with it before on some levels, dealt with it with my dad because he worked out here, too,” said Davis.

Davis, who also is waiting on the outcome of contract talks before transferring, said he’s upset with the situation, “but I’m powerless against it. There is nothing I can do.”

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