INDUSTRY Official fears for future of GM plant

Traficanti stressed the employer's importance to the Valley's economic fate.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said he wants to meet with his Trumbull County counterpart and a General Motors union official to discuss the future of the Lordstown assembly plant.
Traficanti said before the conclusion of the Mahoning commissioners' Thursday meeting that the Valley's economic fate is tied to the future of GM's Lordstown plant.
He was reacting to General Motor's announcement Tuesday that it will cut 25,000 jobs by 2008 and close an unspecified number of plants to trim costs and re-energize its North American business.
Foreign automakers, Traficanti said, are expanding their North American markets with more efficient factories, lower health care and pension costs, and fewer unionized employees.
Traficanti said he spoke with Trumbull Commissioner Daniel Polivka about setting up a meeting with Jim Graham, president of United Auto Workers 1112 at GM, about the severity of the cuts and how that might affect the Lordstown operation.
He didn't specify when that meeting would take place.
Questions and concerns
"Is the Cobalt sustainable enough to keep that product here?" Traficanti asked. "Any quality of life can only be achieved with a sustainable economy."
GM executives have said one of the costs weighing down the company is the rising outlay for health-care and pension benefits.
"Health care is putting the [U.S. auto] industry out of business," Traficanti said, adding that employees must be willing to pay a portion of health-care costs to ease the financial burden on employers.
He said that is why commissioners have insisted that nonunion county employees pay 10 percent of their health insurance benefits and that future contracts with unionized county workers contain the same condition.
Backup plan
Traficanti also said he wants the Valley's federal lawmakers to develop a plan to deal with the economic loss if the Lordstown plant does find itself on GM's closure list.
He said he couldn't fathom how this area would survive economically if GM closed the Trumbull County plant. He said Delphi Packard Electric Systems, which does a lot of work for GM vehicles, also would cease to exist.
Traficanti said the U.S. auto industry is "being outmanaged and outworked" by its foreign competitors in some cases. But, he added, the federal government, President Bush in particular, refuses to put on tariffs to level the playing field.
At least one auto industry analyst, however, believes the Lordstown plant is positioned to withstand the plant closings and job cutbacks because of the substantial investment GM has made to establish the Cobalt line. The Lordstown plant began producing the Cobalt in 2004.

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