Trump told GM workers he could save their plant, but it’s gone for good

LORDSTOWN, OH - NOVEMBER 26: An exterior view of the GM Lordstown Plant on November 26, 2018 in Lordstown, Ohio. GM said it would end production at five North American plants including Lordstown, and cut 15 percent of its salaried workforce. The GM Lordstown Plant assembles the Chevy Cruz. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

As details emerged Thursday about the tentative United Auto Workers agreement with General Motors, one thing became clear: The shuttered GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that President Donald Trump hoped to save will stay closed for good.

The President cast himself in 2016 as a savior for workers, taking the unusual tack of publicly pressuring corporations like Carrier into changing their plans for moving or changing production. But despite months of demands, Trump has been unable to get GM to keep jobs at Lordstown.

Trump zeroed in on the Ohio plant because of his promise to working-class voters that he would revive US manufacturing, keeping jobs in the United States. With that promise, Trump won Ohio and did well with voters in Mahoning Valley — a key to securing the election in 2016.

In 2017, Trump went to Youngstown, 15 miles down the road from the Lordstown plant, and promised residents that manufacturing jobs would be returning to the region, telling the crowd: “Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.”

GM worker Ernie Long heard that speech while he was still at the Lordstown plant.

“He said don’t sell your house, and look, now I got to sell my house that I just built three years ago,” said Long, who was at the plant for 11 years. He’s still a member of his union — Local 1112 — but is injured and not currently working.

Lordstown, which manufactured the Cruze sedan, closed on March 6, leaving 1,600 people without jobs. GM says it has relocated 1,300 hourly employees — but some moved, hoping their old plant would reopen under a new union contract with GM. The deal reached this week, however, doesn’t include any provision for that.

“So many people left the community with the thought in their mind that, you know what? Our union’s strong and our union’s going to get us back to work in Lordstown one day,” said Tommy Wolikow, a former Lordstown worker. “To hear this news that we might not get another General Motors product, it’s just devastating.”

Administration officials heralded the end of the GM strike Thursday, sidestepping the Lordstown issue. White House Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro told CNN on Thursday that the agreement will “improve the lives of working men and women throughout the Midwest and beyond for where the supply chain spreads.”

Lordstown is one of four GM plants slated to close by the end of 2020. The tentative agreement saves only one, a plant in Detroit.

“It is with sadness that, with this agreement, three of those four facilities will close,” said the union’s summary of the deal’s terms.

Manufacturing activity in September fell to its lowest point in a decade. The Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which Trump flipped, have all lost manufacturing jobs since June. Many of those jobs have moved overseas. In the last decade, GM has shifted jobs and product lines to Mexico because of lower manufacturing costs.

“GM is committed to future investment and job growth in the state of Ohio,” GM said in a statement. “Projects planned for the Mahoning Valley include the opportunity to bring battery cell production to the area, which would create approximately 1,000 manufacturing jobs.”

But Trump has been specific about the Lordstown plant itself.

“I want jobs to stay in the U.S.A. and want Lordstown (Ohio), in one of the best economies in our history, opened or sold to a company who will open it up fast!” Trump tweeted in March shortly before the plant closed.

He also called GM CEO Mary Barra to discuss Lordstown.

“Just spoke to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors about the Lordstown Ohio plant, I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING,” Trump said in another March tweet. “I asked her to sell it or do something quickly. She blamed the UAW Union — I don’t care, I just want it open!”

Navarro pointed to the battery production facility as an encouraging sign and the administration anticipates, he said, that “GM will do its best to make the Workhorse Group’s plan to produce EV pickup trucks within the Lordstown facility footprint a UAW success story.”

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