UAWs now merged say: bring it, we will build it


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VINDICATOR EXCLUSIVE

By Kalea Hall

khall@vindy.com

LORDSTOWN

Glenn Johnson on Lordstown

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United Auto Workers locals 1112 and 1714 are merged. Local 1112 now represents all 3,000 workers at the General Motors Lordstown Complex where the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact car, is produced. The merger is a move to make the plant more cost effective. The hope is the merger plus attaining production benchmarks will lead to a new vehicle. “It’s up to us to earn that product,” said Robert Morales, president of Local 1714. “We are up to that task.”

United Auto Workers locals 1112 and 1714 are merged.

Local 1112 now represents all 3,000 workers at the General Motors Lordstown Complex where the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact car, is produced.

The merger is a move to make the plant more cost effective.

The hope is the merger plus attaining production benchmarks will lead to a new vehicle.

“It’s up to us to earn that product,” said Robert Morales, president of Local 1714. “We are up to that task.”

TOUGH TIMES

2017 was a tough year for Lordstown.

It ended with multiple weeks of down time and some of the worst sales months for the Cruze.

“We have great leadership on [both] the management and union [sides], we have a super great workforce, we have a great product, [but] right now it’s not selling. But that’s not GM’s fault, it’s not the workers’ fault, it is the consumers’ preference,” Johnson said.

Slowing sales of the Cruze have brought concern throughout the Mahoning Valley about the future of GM Lordstown.

“We do not share details about production or scheduling for competitive reasons,” said Tom Mock, communications manager for GM Lordstown and Parma Metal Center.

Despite the tough year, union leaders say the plant workers keep working to meet benchmarks that GM wants.

The plant is currently at “built-in-quality” level three and working toward level four. Built-in-quality is a process of securing quality at each phase of production.

THE MERGER

Last September, the UAW leaders — Morales, representing fabrication plant workers, and Glenn Johnson, president of Local 1112 representing the assembly plant workers — announced after 47 years as a local union, 1714 would come to an end.

“When you make your own identity as a local or a group for 47 years, to have it just somewhat wiped away with a swipe of a pen to an agreement we signed in July, yeah, it is emotional,” Morales said.

The two unions had a deadline of Monday to make the merger official.

The Lordstown facility was the last remaining GM plant with two unions representing workers. The UAW received a commitment from GM that as long as the Cruze is built in North America, it will be built at the GM Lordstown Assembly Complex. The hatchback version of the Cruze is built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

Since the agreement was signed, both 1112 and 1714 leaders have worked together to join the memberships contractually – and physically.

This is UAW Local 1112’s 52nd year.

The longevity of both locals comes with a lot of pride in the identity each has established.

“We have always tried to build the bridge to show we can work together as two [and] we understand the ship is gonna float together here,” Morales said. “We have been able to knock down some walls.”

WORKING TOGETHER

During the merger, leadership on both sides came together to make decisions for the future.

“We simply want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to secure product for the future [and] put us in the best position to be able to raise our hands and say we earned new product,” Morales said.

By December, the population of both sides were combined, Johnson said.

The new year kicked off with a meeting as one local where nominations for an election committee took place. In the end, 13 people from the assembly side of the complex and eight from the fabrication side were nominated.

“It shows there’s still a passion and caring to want to do the right thing. No matter which local you came from, you want to be a part of the solution moving forward,” Johnson said. “[I am] real proud of those members stepping up and wanting to take on a challenge.”

The Local 1714 union hall at 2121 Salt Springs Road is still there. And inside there are still benefit representatives and others, including Morales, available to answer questions. Under the UAW international agreement, Morales’s three-year term ends in May.

“These are tough times,” Morales said. “These are times that leaders have to come together and lead and make decisions for the group. It’s how these plants react to the tough times that’s gonna set them apart, and that’s where I believe our membership has done a great job in maintaining their focus in producing a quality product.”

CONTINUING TREND

The new year started with a 45.5 percent decline in Cruze sales during January. Meanwhile in the crossover segment, GM reported a 20 percent year-over-year gain and a 7 percent increase in the truck segment.

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, said she doesn’t see an end to the global trend of consumers moving away from cars. Consumers see an advantage in buying crossover vehicles for three major reasons: cargo space, the ride height and easy entry and exit.

“The trend really started in the early 2000s, but accelerated tremendously in the last three or four years,” Krebs said.

The acceleration is attributed to the progress made in fuel efficiency.

Foreign automakers have fared better under the current climate because of the longevity of their car nameplates and known reliability.

“I think when people are buying a car they turn to the cars with the strongest reputation,” Krebs said.

The Cruze, now in its second generation, was launched in 2010.

One of its main competitors, the Honda Civic, now in its 10th generation, was launched in 1973.

But the Cruze has stood out even among the top-selling foreign cars. In 2017, the Cruze was named a “Top Pick” by Consumer Reports. It was the first domestic compact car in more than a decade to receive the “Top Pick” title. From 2013 through 2016, the Subaru Impreza took the title.

In 2014, the announcement of $50 million to build the next generation Cruze was met with praise. GM has spent about $600 million to build the once top-selling Cruze.

Johnson hopes the corporate tax breaks from President Donald Trump’s administration will encourage corporations to reinvest in the U.S.

“If that’s enough, then that may be the economic stimulus that gives us an opportunity,” Johnson said. “If they bring it, we will build it.”

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