GM Lordstown plant workers urge rejection of UAW deal if their factory remains closed

Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press
GM Lordstown plant workers urge rejection of UAW deal if their factory remains closed

DETROIT — The future of General Motors' assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, has been a friction point between GM and the UAW since even before negotiations for a new contract began this summer, and now could pose a threat to ratification of a tentative agreement. 

About 40 to 50 UAW members gathered Thursday outside Detroit's Renaissance Center ahead of the UAW National GM Council meeting, as well as inside the Marriott hotel where the meeting was held, chanting “no product, no vote.“

As UAW leaders Gary Jones and Terry Dittes descended the escalator to enter the ballroom ahead of the meeting, the protesters again shouted: “No product, no vote“ and “Stop giving our jobs to Mexico!”

Reports on the Lordstown plant's fate conflicted after the union and GM reached a proposed tentative agreement. The Wall Street Journal reported the automaker would invest, with partners, $1.3 billion near the idled factory. Other accounts said Lordstown was left out of the pact. The Journal report squares with the USA TODAY Network's Detroit Free Press reporting on a battery plant planned near the factory, while GM works to sell the plant to an enterprise linked to electric truck maker Workhorse Group of suburban Cincinnati. 

From left: Bill Goodchild and Justin Brown both of Local 1112 from Lordstown Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

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The battery plant would be a joint venture that would involve a separate contract with the UAW and be near the idled facility, a person familiar with discussions told the Free Press earlier this month. 

Justin Brown drove from Wentzville, Missouri, to Detroit to participate in the protest. He worked 11 years at the Lordstown plant before transferring to GM’s plant in Wentzville five months ago.

“I left my home and everything there in Lordstown," said Brown. “If there’s nothing in this contract for Lordstown, my vote is no. If they won’t give it to us now, then I don’t think we should settle the contract.”

Many members of the GM Lordstown Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio gather at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, ahead of the GM-UAW vote on a new contract.

Ready to stay on strike

Likewise, Tommy Wolikow said, “if they just throw Lordstown away, it’ll be a no for me.”

Wolikow works at Flint assembly, but he spent years working at Lordstown. He said if the 46,000 members are “true union brothers and sisters and know the meaning of solidarity, they’ll stick with us” and reject the proposed tentative contract.

“If there’s no product for Lordstown, my vote is no,” said William Goodchild, a laid-off Lordstown worker who came to GM’s headquarters to make sure UAW leaders know the Lordstown issue matters.

Goodchild, Wolikow, Brown and others at the rally said they are ready to stay on strike longer if need be to get a product for Lordstown. But Wolikow worries that some union members will see “the big carrot” GM has offered in the form of a ratification bonus of at least $9,000 and “be bought out” to ratify a tentative contract if the National GM Council recommends ratification.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill, who retired as a tool and die maker from Delphi Packard Electric Systems in 2004, said he had not been briefed by General Motors as of 10 a.m. Thursday.

“I haven’t had a heads up on anything,” Hill said. “I’m sure with GM their priority now is to get an agreement with the UAW.”

Right now, he said, much of the speculation is focusing on a scenario where the Workhorse buys the factory. The belief, he said, is that no product has been allocated by GM to Lordstown but nothing has been confirmed.

GM in November 2018 angered the UAW when it announced plans to idle four U.S. plants, including Lordstown, which shut down earlier this year when production of the small Chevrolet Cruze ended.  

The decision was a sore point with President Donald Trump, who had promised workers during a 2017 rally in nearby Youngstown that he would protect manufacturing jobs. "Don't move. Don't sell your house," he said. 

After GM's announcement last year, Trump periodically pressured GM and the UAW to find a way to keep the factory open, at one point hailing the Workhorse possibility as a savior for the plant. 

Lordstown Motors is a new enterprise affiliated with Workhorse's former CEO. It is trying to arrange financing to buy the plant, and while GM and others have said talks continue on that possibility and express optimism, it's unclear whether or when a deal might come to fruition.

Several former Lordstown workers, transferred to other GM plants, have held to Trump's promise and not sold their homes, commuting to new jobs in locations such as Flint and Lansing in Michigan.

Mike Yakim, 51, a 25-year GM employee, is one of them. He was featured in a Free Press story during the early days of the strike about his commuting from Lansing to Lordstown and picketing in both locations. 

Yakim was at the Renaissance Center on Thursday. 

"We feel violated by General Motors and hope that the UAW doesn’t betray our trust in them," he said. He vowed to vote against the proposed contract if it does not commit a product to Lordstown. 

Mike Yakim at the empty GM Lordstown Assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

Tentative agreement provisions

Known provisions of the proposed tentative agreement include:

  • UAW-represented GM workers will get a bonus of more than $9,000 upon ratification of the deal.
  • GM will invest in U.S. facilities to create and retain 9,000 jobs.
  • 3-4% wage and lump-sum increases in alternating years.
  • As part of that investment, the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant will be retooled to build an electric pickup.
  • Temporary workers, who have been paid $15-19 an hour with inferior benefits to permanent autoworkers, get a path to a permanent role.
  • Newer union workers with two weeks' vacation a year will get to take one of those weeks at their choosing. In the previous contract, these employees were required to take both paid vacation weeks during scheduled plant shutdowns. The second week of a plant shutdown would be considered a layoff, qualifying workers for unemployment.

Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Jamie LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan. Susan Tompor contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GM Lordstown plant workers may reject UAW pact over factory closure