By Kalea Hall
Working at the General Motors Lordstown Complex was the best job Michael Scarnecchia has had since he started working in manufacturing in 2002.
Scarnecchia, 33, had worked just a little more than a year before the shift cut was announced in November, so he knew he would be on the layoff list.
The layoffs began Monday, the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order indicating the nation’s withdrawal from the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.
The president has said he is concerned the TPP does not do enough to protect U.S. jobs.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle were happy with Trump’s decision and with his plans for other trade agreements.
TPP was a trade agreement that threatened to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.
But while some see Trump’s action as the first salvo toward improving fair trade and preserving American jobs, those laid off at the GM complex now must deal with finding other employment.
“I was immediately concerned knowing that one source of income was disappearing,” said Scarnecchia, of Austintown.
He attended the Rapid Response meeting Monday hosted by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at the United Auto Workers Local 1714 Hall.
“I am here to find out what unemployment has to tell us,” he said. “I am not afraid about being able to get by. I am concerned about getting a substantial source of income like the one I lost.”
The state had meetings at both the UAW 1714 Hall and the UAW 1112 Hall, and there will be more meetings for laid-off workers today and Wednesday.
“If it turns out to be long-term, it’s going to be devastating [to the community],” Scarnecchia said.
Scarnecchia worked inside the West Plant where the Chevrolet Cruze building process starts with metal stamping. About 235 workers were laid off there. Inside the East Plant, where the assembly of the Cruze takes place, more than 600 were affected.
Both sides of the plant saw fewer layoffs than what was originally expected.
“It is lower because they are keeping some people for training,” said Glenn Johnson, president of UAW Local 1112, which represents the East Plant assembly workers.
Originally, 1,202 hourly workers were expected to be laid off, according to the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act filed with the state.
The laid-off workers at both plants started in 2012 or after. A total of 4,500 worked at the plant before the shift cut, making it the largest employer in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, according to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. A new count of the number of employees at the plant will be completed this week.
This week, the GM Lordstown production of the Chevrolet Cruze is idled to prepare for the transition to two shifts from the three shifts the plant had since it started production of the Cruze in 2010. Production will start again next week, but full two-shift production on the assembly side will start in two weeks. The West Plant’s press room will still run three shifts, while the body shop in the West Plant will have two.
“Obviously, it’s a trauma,” Johnson said of the layoffs. “There’s a vast number of our family that’s going to be without work for the foreseeable future.”
Local 1112 also represents workers at Magna Seating Systems in Lordstown, where the Cruze seats are built, and the workers at Jamestown Industries in Austintown, where the front and rear bumpers for the Cruze are built. At Magna, 75 employees were laid off, and 15 were laid off at Jamestown.
GM cut the third shift because of a slowdown in the small-car market since consumers are focused on compact sport utility vehicles and larger vehicles.
Trade is not the cause of the Lordstown layoffs, but a tweet sent out by Trump about Cruze production at the Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, plant has some wondering if the president could have an impact on bringing more jobs here.
The Mexican plant built a small amount of sedan Cruzes – 3,000 – to supplement the U.S. supply here. That supplement has ended, but the Mexico plant still builds the Cruze Hatchback version for the U.S. market and other markets.
Last year, there were 4,832 Cruze Hatchback models built for the U.S. Even if the Cruze Hatchback production for the U.S. were to be moved here, union leaders say it wouldn’t bring back all the jobs recently lost.
“It’s not high-enough volume to sustain the shift,” Johnson said. “We would gladly build it here if GM wants.”
Trump’s stance on trade gives unions and others hope more jobs will be brought back to the U.S. that were lost to foreign countries.
“He opposed it [TPP] from Day One, and it’s good news that he followed through,” said Robert Morales, president of UAW 1714. “It’s not only good for the auto industry but something that will benefit America.”
Johnson is encouraged by Trump’s stance for fair trade instead of free trade, so the “playing field is level for all parties ... and then let the workers prove where the work should be.”
“I am happy to see he is revisiting NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], and I encourage him to revisit CAFTA [Central America Free Trade Agreement],” Johnson said.
Auto analysts noted the need for Trump to be cautious with the renegotiation of trade deals affecting the auto industry.
“Renegotiating NAFTA will be tricky business,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, in a statement. “The new administration will have to avoid unintended consequences like losing one set of jobs to create another, raising new-car prices for already financially strapped consumers or damaging an auto industry that has been a key driver in the improving economy.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan applauded the move to pull out of the TPP. The Wisconsin Republican said in a statement that Trump “has followed through on his promise to insist on better trade agreements.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, also applauded Trump’s TPP decision. He also has reached out to the president offering to work on renegotiating NAFTA.
“Throwing out TPP is the first necessary step in overhauling our trade policy to put American workers first,” Brown said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, fought for years against the trade agreement the Obama administration tried to see through.
“This deal failed because it lacked the necessary support among Republicans and Democrats in Congress and hardworking men and women,” Ryan said in a statement. “This action confirms what I have been saying my whole career: We need to be prioritizing American manufacturing, industries and workers. As President Trump considers renegotiating NAFTA, I call on him to remember the workers of Ohio’s 13th District who have seen their jobs shipped overseas.”
Contributor: Associated Press