Brown, Portman make case with GM boss for keeping Lordstown open

CEO Mary Barra makes no promises, says company is ‘trying to the do the right thing.’

Ohio’s two senators pressed General Motors CEO Mary Barra to use the soon-to-be-vacated Lordstown GM plant for one of five new products the company plans to launch next year.

During a roughly 30-minute meeting with Barra in Sen. Rob Portman’s Capitol Hill office Wednesday, Portman, a Republican, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, stressed the impact of GM’s decision to lay off 14,000 workers nationally, including the 1,500 employees at the Lordstown plant, which produces the Chevrolet Cruze.

Portman suggested that Lordstown could be used to help GM fulfill its promise to build 20 new electric vehicle models in the next five years.

For her part, Barra gave no assurances, stressing that the company is trying to focus on the affected GM employees. She said in some cases the company is attempting to transfer impacted employees to other plants.

Barra said GM hopes to expand the capacity of plants it didn’t target for closing, calling Lordstown an “unallocated plant.” She said the company is working with the United Auto Workers on contract issues related to the decision to shutter the plant.

“We have a very strong automotive presence in Ohio,” she said. “We have several plants and I think about 4,000 workers in addition to what we are talking about now. There are some of the facilities in Ohio that will have jobs available as well as we move forward. So we are trying to do the right thing. We think Ohio is a very important auto state. We have a very good workforce there.”

Her comments were interrupted by Jimmy Dahman, a Canfield native who interrupted Barra’s media availability to shout, “What about my friends and family?”

Dahman said he, his sister and his brother all drive Chevy Cruzes.

“We are loyal customers,” he said, “and to have this to happen is just – it’s a gut punch.”

Brown said he and Portman stressed that J.D. Powers and Associates have given high marks to the Lordstown plant for its workforce, saying the layoffs of the last shift of workers at the plant would devastate northeast Ohio.

“Senator Portman and I will continue to fight to get a decision quicker rather than later, on putting whether it’s electric vehicles or the some other Chevy Blazer or something else in this plant.”

President Donald Trump said last week that he urged Barra to get a replacement for the Cruze at the Lordstown plant.

Brown said he has already spoken to Trump, while Portman said he talked to both Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday.

“We’re trying everything we can to be sure that those workers in Lordstown get the support they deserve now,” said Portman. He added that the senators “are not asking for charity,” but instead for a chance to keep serving the company the plant served for more than 50 years.

During their meeting with Barra, Portman said he and Brown brought up the 2008 $80.7 billion bailout of the auto industry as well as a recent tax cut expected to stimulate GM’s business. He said the tax bill included provisions that are “exactly the kind of thing GM should be using to reinvest in Lordstown for a new product.”

“We understand the Cruze isn’t selling like it used to,” he said. “That’s a market condition. We can’t change that. But we also understand that this plant deserves the support of this company that has supported it so well over the last five decades.”

For her part, Barra said the company will be “forever grateful” for the bailout.

“We are trying to make sure we’re good corporate citizens and continue to provide jobs and provide vehicles and transportation that customers want in this country,” she said. “That’s what I think can be the most responsible thing that we can do to thank the American taxpayers for what they did for us.”

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