By Graig Graziosi
The ostensible purpose of the Drive It Home Ohio campaign trip Wednesday to the Statehouse was the presentation of a resolution from state lawmakers offering their support to Lords-town workers.
There also was an underlying message to the visit: “There are real people about to take these closures on the chin, and you’re looking at them.”
The trip was organized and led by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and United Auto Workers Local 1112.
The Drive It Home Ohio campaign is meant to build support for UAW workers and persuade General Motors to keep the Lordstown Assembly Plant in operation.
Though the delegation wasn’t especially large – about 20 people, a quarter of whom were chamber staff and another quarter press – it did include the mayors of both Warren and Lords-town, as well as chamber CEO James Dignan, UAW Local 1112 President Dave Green and three UAW members, among others.
The proposed resolution reaffirms the state’s support of the campaign and the Lords-town workers.
The local group was supposed to meet with both the state House and Senate, but cancellations of both sessions forced an itinerary change.
The delegation met with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who reaffirmed his support for the plight of the workers during a brief session with Green, Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill, Dignan and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.
“We want to provide the workers with all the certainty and opportunity that we can,” Husted said.
Dignan said Husted pledged to continue his support for the region beyond the planned closure of the plant.
The group also visited the JobsOhio offices and the House and Senate minority leaders, where they were lauded by legislators who spoke to the labor of GM Lordstown workers and the plant’s pivotal importance to the local economy.
During the meeting with House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, state Rep. Glenn Holmes of Girard, D-63rd, announced House Bill 21, which, if passed, would provide an additional 25 weeks of unemployment benefits for individuals who lose their jobs in “mass layoffs” – 75 people or more – once their traditional unemployment runs out.
State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, and Mike O’Brien of Warren, D-64th, also participated in the meeting.
In the Senate chamber, Minority Whip Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd, was joined by state Sen. Michael Rulli of Salem, R-33rd, and state Rep. Don Manning of New Middletown, R-59th, to present a senatorial citation to the chamber for its work on the campaign.
Rulli, Green, Hill and O’Brien stated their desires to keep GM in Lordstown and keep Lordstown workers “in the GM family.”
Only Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko spoke with a critical tone toward the company.
“I know the power of a unified group of workers. I was a former union leader,” Yuko said. “Part of GM’s success is on the backs of their workers. Entire families will be displaced. It’s not fair to these workers.”
After the trip, most of the participants agreed it had been an overall positive experience.
UAW member Joe Martin said he thought having a physical presence at the Statehouse was important to keep Lordstown’s troubles fresh in the minds of legislators, but he hopes the campaign will continue to push lawmakers even after the plant’s closure next month.
“It’s good to do this, but if we don’t keep pushing and reminding them we’re here, they’ll eventually sweep us under the rug,” Martin said.
Dignan said the campaign would continue regardless of whether the plant stays open.
He said in the event of a closure, the campaign would focus on trying to persuade GM leadership in Detroit it should invest in low-emissions vehicle manufacturing at the Lordstown site.
Dignan and representatives of the Drive It Home Ohio campaign will return to the Statehouse in April to address the full sessions of the state Legislature.