GM hasn’t slammed door on its Valley plant’s future

If there’s even a sliver of a chance of General Motors assigning a new product to its Lordstown assembly plant, the Mahoning Valley must do whatever is necessary to make that a reality.

Monday’s announcement by GM that production of the Chevrolet Cruze at the Lordstown complex will cease in March was not unexpected given that sales of the compact car have been declining for several years.

Nonetheless, the company’s designation of the plant as “non-allocated” is devastating news because it means there’s no new product to replace the Cruze.

It did not take long for the “Black Monday” moniker to be applied to the announcement – an allusion to “Black Monday” Sept. 19, 1977, that marked the beginning of the end of major steel manufacturing in the Mahoning Valley. On that date, Youngstown Sheet & Tube abruptly furloughed 5,000 workers. By the time the economic dust settled, 50,000 Valley workers were affected directly or indirectly by the demise of steel production.

The Mahoning Valley still has not fully recovered from that economic body blow, which is why GM’s announcement Monday is such a shock to the senses. The loss of more than 1,500 high-paying union and non-union jobs will have a major impact on the Valley’s economy.

Nonetheless, we aren’t ready to throw in the towel. Hope must spring eternal for a region that has had more than its fair share of bad news.

We cling to the fact that GM did not announce that it is permanently closing the Lordstown facility. Two other assembly plants, one in Detroit and the other in Canada, are also designated “non-allocated”.

Barra finally speaks

GM Chairwoman and CEO Mary Barra, who fueled the Valley’s worries about the future of the Lordstown plant by refusing to publicly comment as two shifts were eliminated last year and this past summer, issued the following statement:

“The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future. We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.”

The vagueness of Barra’s comment is the sliver of a chance that should energize the people of the Valley until GM issues a definitive decision.

Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, had this to say after GM officials informed him of the decision to end production of the Cruze and place the plant on “non-allocated” status:

“ ... we are not hopeless, we are hopeful. And we are determined to do everything we can to convince General Motors to make Lordstown part of the future of auto manufacturing for this great company that we have been like family with for 52 years.”

Green said that the “Drive It Home” campaign launched last week by UAW Local 1112, the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, local, state and federal officeholders and business and grassroots organizations is “alive and well.”

“We need to convince General Motors to grow jobs in the Mahoning Valley, protect manufacturing in Ohio and make sure that American-made cars and trucks are made in America,” Green added.

As we’ve argued many times in this space, the autoworkers in the Mahoning Valley are second to none when it comes to the quality of the product. The cars built in the Lordstown plant have consistently been among the best-selling vehicles in GM’s fleet. In addition, labor-management relations at the plant have never been better, resulting in most production standards being met.

The slow sales of the Cruze have nothing to do with the quality of the car, which is why a new product for the plant is justified.

President Donald Trump, who spoke with Barra on Sunday night, insisted there will be another product at Lordstown in the not too distant future.

We, therefore, urge the state’s congressional delegation, led by Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman and the Valley’s Republican congressman, Bill Johnson, to seek an immediate meeting with the Republican president to discuss how the federal and state governments can join forces to make GM an offer it can’t refuse.

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