GM plant closures may force United Auto Workers to strike
Workers express shock and grief upon the closing of the Lordstown, Ohio GM plant. Trump's promises to them were meaningless. | AP

DETROIT—General Motors’ closure of big plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland may force its workers, represented by the United Auto Workers, to strike. It’s already forced the UAW to court.

Even GOP President Donald Trump has noticed. He’s slamming GM for closing its big plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Even though the union is defending the Lordstown workers and demanding GM keep the plant open, Trump tweeted an order to UAW’s local president “to get his act together.”

Local 1112 President David Green replied he had written two letters to Trump to try to get him to intervene with GM about the Lordstown shutdown, and got no response.

GM set off the conflict when it announced the closures late last year, despite the huge boost in profits it got from the 2017 Trump-GOP corporate tax cut. GM turned almost $12 billion in profits in the U.S. in calendar 2018.  The first closure, March 6, was Lordstown.

The closures would effectively fire 14,000 UAW-member workers and could affect thousands more in the company’s supply chain.

The GM closures mark at least the second case where a major industrial corporation, recipient of the Trump-GOP largesse through their tax cut for business and the rich, has broken its word about creating jobs to both its workers and to the Oval Office occupant. The other was the Carrier plant in Indiana, where his promise of saving 1,100 jobs was a lie.

Trump used return of factory jobs as a major campaign theme in the key Great Lakes states he won in 2016. His theme drew hundreds of thousands of unionist votes in those key states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – where his narrow wins gave him their electoral votes, and the White House.

GM justified these closings by saying the plants produced small cars consumers no longer want to buy and parts for them. It claims consumers want sport utility vehicles, instead.

But the sudden closure announcement, without any consultation with the union, violates the UAW’s contract with the largest of the “Detroit 3.” That led UAW to vote, at a special convention during the week of March 11, to increase strike benefits by $75 weekly, or 37.5 percent. It also filed the lawsuit.

“Tell GM: We invested in you. Now it’s your turn to invest in us!” the headline on UAW’s anti-closure section of its website declares. Help us save American jobs & stop GM’s cuts.”

“GM’s decision is another example of corporations prioritizing profits over the wellbeing of their own workers and the families who depend on them. Take a moment to write a letter to GM now, and let them know what you think of their decision to close plants and eliminate the jobs of 14,000 American workers,” the website urges.

The website, quoting GM officials, says the closures will add $6 billion more to the company’s coffers. It’s been using extra profits in stock buybacks and dividends, the union adds.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, carries out the union’s vow on the website to “leave no stone unturned” to make sure GM honors the contractual rights of members in the plants in Warren and Lordstown, Ohio, and the GPS Baltimore plant. GM had planned to close its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, too, but community uproar forced the firm to postpone that for a year.

“Now they know there will be no more quiet closings of plants,” new union President Gary Jones told the special bargaining convention, which ended March 13. “No more shipping jobs abroad without a sound. They are on notice.” The closures also led to the strike pay hike, he added.

The closed Lordstown, Ohio GM plant. | Tony Dejak/AP

“We are preparing for a conflict and we are choosing to rely upon ourselves rather than rely on the goodwill of others,” new union President Gary Jones told the 900-plus delegates. “The battle may not come if others see how serious we are and how ready we are.”

In its lawsuit, UAW quoted GM as saying the Warren, Lordstown, and Baltimore plants would be “unallocated.” That’s corporate-speak for “closed,” the suit says – the closures violated the union contract with the automaker. It also notes the 4-year UAW-GM contract expires this Sept. 14.

It also inserted the entire “plant closing moratorium” side letter UAW and GM attached to the contract in 2015.

“During the term” of the contract “the company will not close, idle, nor partially or wholly sell, nor split off spin off, consolidate or otherwise dispose of any plant, asset or business unit of any type, beyond those already identified, constituting a bargaining unit in this agreement,” the letter’s first paragraph reads.

But then it lists exceptions. In two – “market-related decline or an act of God” – that “could make compliance impossible…the company will review both the conditions and their impact on a particular location with the union.”

The other says “should it be necessary to close or idle a plant consistent with our past practice, the company will attempt to redeploy employees to other locations” and “if necessary, offer incentivized attrition programs,” i.e. buyouts, to the workers.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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