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Hope of coming back to shuttered GM plant fades for workers

by Ace Damon
General Motors

John Seewer, Tom Krishner and Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press

Published Friday, September 27, 2019 1:22 PM EDT

TOLEDO, Ohio – In the months since General Motors signaled the closure of its huge car plant in Lordstown, Ohio, Tammy Hurst postponed the wedding date and saw her fiance, two sisters, a brother and a nephew leave their hometowns. for new jobs.

All five were moved to GM's factories in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, offending their family and their weekly picnics, birthday parties, and shopping trips.

"We've always been 20 minutes from each other and now we're all over the place," said Hurst, who is waiting to see if her fiancé settles in for her new job in Kentucky before joining him.

As for marriage, it will also have to wait "until we discover this mess."

Among the thousands of former Lordstown assembly plant workers now scattered across GM factories in seven states, many expected the automaker, under pressure from President Donald Trump, to agree during contract negotiations to revive production that ended in March. and rescue your old jobs.

But that hope is dwindling.

Instead, GM wants to sell the factory to an electric vehicle manufacturer and build an electric vehicle battery factory that would likely be run by a GM joint venture.

The battery factory proposal and the fate of the Lordstown plant are taking place amid negotiations aimed at ending the 49,000-member United Auto Workers strike, which paralyzed GM car production nationwide for nearly two weeks.

How many jobs in the UAW the company would need for the battery factory have not yet been released, but they are likely to be a few hundred at the beginning and never come close to the 4,500 who worked in Lordstown, making the Chevrolet Cruze just two years ago.

Wages would also be much lower – up to 50% below the $ 30 per hour maximum wage now made by UAW production workers.

As for the electric vehicle factory, which would be run by a venture led by a company called Workhorse, it is unclear how many jobs would be created, how much they would pay, and whether the project would go out of paper.

All this means that it is doubtful whether any of the workers who left Lordstown consider returning.

"It doesn't look like this will happen," said Tommy Wolikow, who moved to a GM factory in Flint, Michigan, but delayed buying a home because he hoped to be able to return to Ohio, where he was 11 years old. Old daughter lives. "It's home, and it will always be home while my family is there."

Of the factory workers around the clock, some 3,400 took over GM to relocate to factories around the country, some as far away as Arlington, Texas, said Dave Green, a former UAW president in Lordstown.

The rest retired from GM or left the company and decided to stay in the area, largely for family reasons, he said.

Tammy Hudak and Matt Himes, who grew up in the shadow of the 560,000-square-foot plant that has defined Lordstown for generations, are among those who have taken root to work at GM in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Both are still waiting for the rest of their families to join them. Hudak shed tears talking about separating from his loved ones, including a son who is finishing high school. Himes's wife is still trying to sell their house, and he has already missed important moments of his son's senior year.

"We'll learn to adjust as the months go by and everything, but it will never be the same," said Hudak, whose husband joined her in Tennessee. "My parents, my in-laws, I mean, everyone is in Ohio."

The cuts in Lordstown, a community of 3,000 people midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, are part of a larger shift at GM to make standalone trucks and electric vehicles.

The move triggered a political exchange between Trump and Democrats, with the president repeatedly telling GM to reopen or sell the plant, which is in the industrial midwest that was vital to its 2016 election and could play a similar role in 2020. But Democrats say Trump has done little in recent months to pressure the automaker to save jobs in Lordstown.

The once busy factory had been the largest remaining manufacturing anchor in what was once Ohio's manufacturing hub. But those days are long gone. Unemployment in the two neighboring municipalities of the factory is about 6%, well above the national average.

Saving any job may be hailed as a victory for Trump, but workers and families whose lives have been damaged in the meantime do not see it that way.

"No matter what they do, it will never be the same. There are people who move and sell their homes. We are forever moved to Lordstown," said Tiffany Davis, a fifth-grade teacher whose husband, Tom, was transferred to A GM's factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, while she stayed behind.

Three of the 18 students in his class last year have moved in and more will leave to join their parents if GM follows its plan to no longer make cars in Ohio. This includes Davis and his two sons.

"Unfortunately," she said, "we have to run after the money."

—— Krisher reported from Detroit and Mattise reported from Spring Hill, Tennessee.

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