General Motors’ restructuring plan has placed it under heavy fire. As it turns out, domestic job cuts and factory closings aren’t all that popular on Capitol Hill or in middle America, especially when a company appears financially healthy. Go figure.
Hoping to mitigate the social damage that’s only guaranteed to escalate next year, GM CEO Mary Barra took a trip to Washington to speak for the automaker. However, there wasn’t much backpedalling or apology-making coming from the executive. Instead, Barra’s presence served only to show that the company is capable of listening while simultaneously reinforcing that there will be no changes made to the plan.
That hasn’t sat well with a president who made employment the cornerstone of his campaign, or the two Ohio senators who want GM to reallocate production from Mexico to Lordstown Assembly to avoid job losses after the Chevrolet Cruze’s discontinuation.
“I want to make sure that the workforce knows that there are limitations and we do have an overcapacity across the country,” Barra said, suggesting that staff currently employed by plants set to close consider GM jobs elsewhere. “I understand this is something that impacts the country and I understand that there is a lot of emotion and concern about it.”
However, Reuters reports that she also said it would be “very costly” to shift production of the Chevrolet Blazer from Mexico to the United States. Fortunately, Barra also claimed that General Motors plans to add products to certain U.S. facilities in 2019. It just doesn’t look as if Lordstown will be given priority. Ohio Senator Rob Portman later confirmed that the CEO made no promises about the facility, noting that Barra had explained that the plant’s ultimate status would be determined via UAW contract talks scheduled for the coming year.
“We’re not asking for charity.” he said, suggesting that all Ohio needs is a new product to sink its teeth into.
Following her meeting with Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and the aforementioned Portman, Barra announced that GM was working with the UAW to best determine what to do with the unallocated plants and how to retrain workers facing layoffs so they can be placed elsewhere. Talks with the UAW are likely to get messy. The union already alleged that GM’s restructuring plan violates commitments it made during 2015 contract negotiations. Since then, the UAW requested that the automaker rescind its decision and resolve the fate of the facilities it plans on closing during talks for a new labor contract in 2019.
Barra is in Washington for meetings with lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer as well as lawmakers from Ohio and Maryland. She was also expected to meet with lawmakers from Michigan on Thursday, among other meetings. After GM announced its plans, Trump threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation.
Administration officials later said they wanted to end subsidies for electric cars in 2020 or 2021, affecting GM and other automakers.
Trump also said new auto tariffs were being studied, asserting, without evidence, that they could prevent job cuts such as those planned by GM.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Barra said: “I had very constructive meetings with members of Congress from Ohio and Maryland. I share their concerns about the impact the actions we announced last week will have on our employees, their families and the communities.
These were very difficult decisions — decisions I take very personally. I informed the members that many hourly employees at the impacted U.S. plants will have the opportunity to work at other U.S. GM plants and that we are committed to working with them to minimize the impact on the communities. I also informed them that all salaried GM workers impacted by these actions are being offered outplacement services to help them transition to new jobs.”
Portman told the Detroit Free Press he spoke to President Donald Trump on Wednesday regarding the GM cuts and said he “is very committed to keeping this assembly plant in Ohio.” But while Senator Portman is seeking the president’s help, Senator Brown is pursuing Trump’s tactics. “The government saved this company,” he said, referring to the bailout of General Motors in 2009.
That’s been a common complaint among those displeased with GM. But Barra has tried to keep the focus on the current problem. “Where we are focused right now is on the workers,” she said, noting that the automaker invested $22 billion in its U.S. operations since the the last recession. The CEO also placed an emphasis on environmental concerns and ending the trade war with China whilst in Washington.
Some could not be diverted from the jobs issue, though. U.S. Representative-elect Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) brought up questions about GM’s long-term goals and environmental concerns but wanted to remain focused on the jobs issue. Tlaib was especially critical of the company, saying that Detroit and the United States have both “paid a terribly steep price to placate and keep GM afloat. Now, as we fight to rebuild our regional economy and create living-wage jobs, GM is repaying our sacrifice and investment by slashing thousands of jobs and closing the plant an entire neighborhood was torn down to build.”
“I’ll always stand in solidarity with workers and for what’s right and this is simply wrong,” she continued, adding that the automaker’s actions reaffirmed her commitment to making demands of corporations that receive public subsidies upfront.
[Images: General Motors]