General Motors CEO Mary Barra gave Ohio’s U.S. senators the brushoff when they sought a commitment from her regarding the future of the Lordstown assembly complex.
Nonetheless, Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, insist they will keep pressuring GM to assign a new product to the 52-year-old plant when it stops building the once top-selling Chevrolet Cruze.
But Brown and Portman are well aware that Barra’s refusal to commit to the plant’s future is a shot across the Valley’s economic bow.
The CEO’s cavalier attitude toward one of the most important economic drivers in this region cannot go unchallenged.
An angry response from the residents of the Valley to GM’s arrogant dismissal of their concerns about the potential economic dislocation is justified and warranted.
That may well be the only way to get Barra’s attention. She is sensitive to any criticism that makes her out to be a heartless automaton.
In an Aug. 5 editorial, The Vindicator charged that by her silence Barra has made it clear she doesn’t care about the well-being of employees, in particular, or Valley residents, in general.
It should be remembered that the plant is down to one shift because sales of the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact car that was once the darling of GM’s fleet, have been soft for a couple of years.
In a July 31 editorial, The Vindicator said this about the uncertain future of the plant and the refusal by Barra and other GM executives to come clean about the company’s plans.
“Their silence ignores the fact that the lives of thousands of Mahoning Valley residents hang in a balance.
“Barra’s inhumanity is shocking considering the loyalty this region has shown GM for half a century.
“We would urge her to examine her conscience and to answer this simple question: Am I being fair to the people of the Valley by refusing to tell them what lies ahead?”
The editorials prompted a visit to the newspaper by a couple of corporate spin doctors. They sought to soften Barra’s image.
The apologists for the CEO insisted that she really does care about the Lords-town plant and its workers and is doing all she can to find a cure for what ails the complex.
But they also acknowledged that no decision has been made about a replacement for the Cruze.
However, the fact that Barra did not give Sens. Brown and Portman any reason for hope is indicative of the attitude of GM executives in Detroit.
Last week, Portman met with the CEO in Washington and came away with a deep sense of foreboding.
“It was a very candid discussion,” the Republican senator told The Vindicator. “I’m not happy. It was disappointing. I pushed her to make a public commitment to the Valley. … She would not make that commitment.”
It is noteworthy that Sen. Brown got the same nonchalant response when he talked to Barra in June.
She made it clear to both senators that it would be too expensive for the giant automaker to upgrade the Lords-town complex – the assembly and fabricating plants and the paint shop – to launch production of an SUV, truck or crossover.
Indeed, Brown said Barra “would not commit that they will keep the plant open in Lordstown.”
This writer been seeing the handwriting on the wall for some time; now, Ohio’s two senators have placed an exclamation point at the end of the message of despair.
It’s foolhardy to believe any GM official who insists that a decision about Lordstown’s future has not been made. After all, in justifying the company’s decision to build the Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico, officials said the process of resurrecting the Blazer and selecting a plant took several years.
It stands to reason, therefore, that a decision on Lordstown has already been made. Without another product, there will be no need for a compact-car production facility.
Thus the question: What will it take for GM to continue operating the Lotdstown complex after the Cruze is laid to rest ?
The answer is one that The Vindicator has long suggested: The direct involvement of President Donald J. Trump, who promised his supporters in the Valley that he would re-energize the American auto industry and would reopen the steel mills.
No one is waiting for the revival of big steel, but this region does have a right to expect Trump’s intervention with regard to the future of the Lordstown plant.
The president should call Barra and lay down the law: Assign another product to the Lordstown complex or face economic punishment for building the Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico.
During the 2016 presidential election, Trump fueled the anger of white male blue-collar workers in this region by blaming former President Barack Obama, illegal immigration, environment regulations and unpatriotic American corporations for their economic problems.
Of course, those workers chose to ignore the fact that it was Obama who pushed through a federal bailout of GM, thereby saving the Lordstown plant.
They also conveniently forgot that it was businessman Trump who criticized the bailout and suggested that bankruptcy would be the best thing for General Motors.
Now, the Lordstown plant is on the verge of closing and the president may well be the Valley’s last hope.
Let there be no mistake: Trump will be blamed if GM pulls up stakes.