GM workers face ‘nature of business’ as layoffs loom


By Kalea Hall

khall@vindy.com

LORDSTOWN

Marquis Brown likes his job installing hoods on the Chevrolet Cruze inside the stamping plant at the Lordstown General Motors Assembly Complex.

But come Jan. 23, Brown will be laid off along with more than 1,000 others.

“I am still out there trying to build quality cars until that last day,” said Brown, 30, of Youngstown. “I tell folks complaining or being depressed about this doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”

The news of the third shift ending at Lordstown hit hard. GM made the announcement the day after Election Day in November.

The automaker said production of the compact car needed to be scaled back because consumer demand has switched to utility vehicles.

“I guess the way it came about was a shock,” Brown said. “The morale in the plant was down and is still down.”

But both Brown and Matt Streb, 36, of Austintown, who also works in the stamping plant, know this is unfortunate but not unprecedented.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Streb said. “We know how important Lordstown is for the [Mahoning] Valley, so we hope it’s short-term.”

A total of 1,245 workers – 1,202 hourly and 43 salary – will be affected by the cut of the third shift. GM Lordstown’s third shift was added for the production of the 2011 Cruze. The addition brought 1,200 jobs to the plant.

This month’s layoffs will be done through seniority.

Brown started at the plant in 2014 and pretty much knew he would be laid off. Streb started in 2013, and he says he is about 30 people away from the cut.

“I am accustomed to being there,” Streb said. “I wouldn’t mind getting a call back. I am going to consider the options. Being on that fringe of potentially making the cut. ... I am in a decent position.”

Brown loves the Cruze and would like to continue building it. His plan for now is to see how the layoff plays out.

“I invested some time in this company,” he said. “I like the company. I like the job. I would like to continue to contribute.”

He’s going to put out some applications and look into what other GM plants have to offer.

The 6.2 million-square-foot plant has 1,200 robots and more than 23.5 miles of conveyor belts moving constantly to pump out more than 1,000 Cruzes every day.

“When I do see one of them driving out there, I know I played some part,” Brown said. “That’s why I take pride in it.”

The United Auto Workers Local 1112, which represents 3,000 assembly workers, and the UAW Local 1714, which represents 1,300 fabrication plant workers, will have workshops at their union halls for the dislocated workers.

The “Rapid Response” sessions hosted by the local Ohio Means Jobs offices will take place Jan. 23-25 with sessions each day at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

“We will alternate between both union halls,” said Bill Turner, director of the Workforce Development Board for Trumbull County. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time we had to do this.”

The goal of the sessions is to tell those impacted what’s available to help them find employment.

“We are there to give them the resources that are out there,” said Bert Cene, director of the Workforce Development Board for Mahoning and Columbiana counties. “Do not wait until your unemployment gets exhausted before you start a plan. Start your job search right away. Utilize whatever is available. Do it soon. Don’t wait.”

For information on the resources Ohio Means Jobs offers, call 330-675-2179.

In addition to Lordstown, GM will end the second shift at its Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant in March, eliminating 1,300 jobs. The Detroit plant produces the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car, Cadillac CT6, Chevrolet Impala and the Buick LaCrosse sedans.

After its launch in late 2010, Cruze sales soared, and the American car even passed the foreign competition that was a leader of the compact-car segment.

But then gas prices dropped in 2014. Consumers started to get more comfortable with the sport-utility option. It’s a trend that has no end in sight.

“We see a continued shift away from traditional cars toward sport utilities,” said Michelle Krebs, analyst for Autotrader.com.

The loss of interest lowered compact-car sales, and automakers answered by adjusting inventory levels. Both GM and Ford have strived not to slather on incentives to get vehicles to sell, so their resale values are strong, Krebs explained.

“They learned their lesson and are making sure the inventories don’t get too high and incentives don’t get too high,” Krebs said. “We have just seen more of a commitment in being disciplined.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.