Thousands of Ohio schoolkids plead with GM CEO Mary Barra to keep Chevy Cruze plant open

Schoolchildren near Lordstown, Ohio, are sending "thousands" of letters and drawings to General Motors CEO Mary Barra stating their Christmas wish is for her to keep the GM factory there operating.

The handwritten missives from 20 school districts in the Mahoning Valley area were expected to be mailed to GM on Friday.

Many plead with Barra to give Lordstown a new vehicle to build so it can remain operating and save the 1,600 jobs there.

GM announced in November that it would discontinue the Chevrolet Cruze compact car, which is built at the Lordstown plant. That sets the stage for the plant to potentially close after 2019.

"I personally have many (diseases) and if the Lordstown closes, I won't be able to afford my medicine," fifth-grader Brian Davis wrote in one of the letters to Barra.

Another child wrote, "All my friends and family are here, this is our home."

And second-grader Jake Shevetz wrote: "I don't want to move. My mom says if they get something new, we won't have to move."

Teacher Cindy Zebosky said 20 of her fourth-graders at Austintown Intermediate School near Youngstown wrote heartfelt letters.

"I am hoping that Mary Barra does at least acknowledge the letters or read them and see what students have to say," Zebosky told the Free Press. "It affects our whole area."

Don't close the doors

GM said Barra will read the letters. 

"We understand how the difficult decision we made on our Lordstown plant has affected our employees, families and the community," GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said in an email to the Free Press. "We are working very hard on providing job opportunities for Lordstown and other impacted employees interested in working at other GM plants. Of course we will accept the children’s letters when delivered and will certainly respond."

The letter-writing campaign started Dec. 10. It was the brainchild of United Auto Workers Local 1112 President David Green and some local school superintendents. 

David Green, president of Local UAW 1112, speaks in his office nearby the General Motors' Lordstown plant, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in Warren, Ohio.

"My hope is that Ms. Barra will read some of these letters and recognize these are penned by the hand of real people and their families. This impacts their lives," said Green.

Green wants GM to allocate a new vehicle to the Lordstown plant to keep it running.

On Nov. 26, GM announced it would likely close three assembly plants by the end of 2019, including one in Detroit and one in Ontario.

Trouble afoot

In the third quarter, sales of the Chevy Cruze were down 27.4 percent compared with the year-ago quarter as consumer preferences have shifted away from cars in favor of SUVs and pickups.

GM has said many of the hourly workers at the affected plants would have an opportunity to transfer to a plant in Texas or Flint, but Green has said that's not realistic for many of the workers at Lordstown.

"I still have 700 people who’ve been laid off in the last couple of years who have not been able to relocate," said Green. "GM says that because they want to reframe it. But they can’t just relocate those people."

Green sensed that Lordstown would need community support long before GM made its fateful Nov. 26 announcement, he said.

"No one knew this announcement was coming, but we knew sometime next year, we'd be in trouble because they were not allocating any new product," Green said. "Second shift went away and I knew we were in trouble, we couldn't sustain it on one shift."

In fact, when GM ended the second shift in July, it offered Lordstown's skilled trades and production employees with certain seniority a voluntary "Special Attrition Program" to mitigate the impact to workers who might get laid off. 

Saving Ohio jobs  

To save jobs, Green launched the Drive it Home Ohio campaign a week before GM's announcement. The campaign is a grassroots coalition of business, labor and elected leaders uniting to urge GM to grow jobs in the Mahoning Valley area to protect manufacturing in state.

At the launch event, some of the local superintendents told Green they would do a letter-writing campaign to GM.

"We were going to do it in the summer, but since this latest announcement, we thought we should do it before Christmas," Green said.

Zebosky, the teacher, said her students know that when a business closes, most people lose their jobs and will struggle with money.

"Some were passionate about it because they are personally affected by it," Zebosky said. "The students whose letters really touched me were those who wrote about their own family members that work at Lordstown, and how the idling affects them personally."

If Barra would visit Lordstown, and the surrounding area, said Zebosky, it might convince her to allocate a new product to the plant. 

The UAW's Green said the coalition will continue to do events to let GM know, "We want to keep manufacturing here. It's extremely important for the state, it's the backbone of our economy."

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Thousands of Ohio schoolkids plead with GM CEO Mary Barra to keep Chevy Cruze plant open