The CEO of General Motors arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday surrounded by cameras, in her first public appearance since announcing the closure of the Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant and four others.
Mary Barra’s 30-minute sit-down with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) was described as a ‘good, very candid discussion,’ but with no firm commitments.
“We talked a lot about the possibility of bringing another product to the plant,” Portman said. “That’s what we’d like to see.”
“Senator Portman and I are just going to continue to ask her to find a way,” Brown said.
With the home of the Chevy Cruze, and it’s more than 1,500 jobs, in jeopardy, Barra had this to say about its future:
“Is the Lordstown plant a done deal at this point? For all the workers there wanting to know?” asked Spectrum Washington reporter Taylor Popielarz.
“The Lordstown plant is an unallocated plant,” Barra said. “We have a contract with the UAW [United Auto Workers] and it’s very important that we respect that and work through that contract.”
Portman and Brown said they’re pushing Barra to retool the Lordstown plant, so more jobs aren’t lost.
“We know the impact this has in the [Mahoning Valley],” Brown said.
“She is willing to keep an open mind,” Portman said, “but does not want to raise expectations.”
Portman said he spoke with President Trump on Wednesday, who reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the plant open.
And both senators said they’re talking about this with outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich and Governor-elect Mike DeWine.
But the impact of this all was made clear by a particular moment on Wednesday.
“What if they want to stay in the places they already — Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley?” shouted a man during Barra’s media availability on Capitol Hill. “What about my friends and family? 1,500 workers!”
Barra was cut off by Canfield, OH resident Jimmy Dahman, who said he, his brother and sister all drive Chevy Cruzes.
“We could understand it if they were really in fiscal trouble and had to consolidate, but their profits are up, their stocks shot up the day [the plant closures were announced] — it’s crazy and just a slap in the face,” Dahman said in an interview after the news conference.
Barra said GM is making these difficult decisions to try to keep the company strong.
“There are some of the facilities in Ohio that will have jobs available as well, as we move forward,” she said. “So we are trying to do the right thing. We think Ohio is a very important auto state; we have a very good workforce there. And we have a tremendous amount of workers in the state that will continue.”
Barra also said GM is ‘forever grateful’ for taxpayers bailing the company out during the recession, but she said they’re now trying to be ‘good corporate citizens’ by closing certain plants and investing elsewhere.
Brown and Portman said they’re urging GM to speed up contract negotiations with the UAW, so the future becomes clearer.
Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH13), whose district includes the Lordstown plant, also met with Barra on Wednesday.
He was not available for an interview, but released this statement:
“Since GM’s announced layoffs, I’ve heard first-hand from countless people across Northeast Ohio who are scared for their financial security and their community’s future. I conveyed that to Mary Barra today and once more insisted that GM do everything it can to place a new product at the Lordstown plant. These are not just numbers on a page, but people’s lives at stake. I also reaffirmed my desire to work with her, the Administration, and my colleagues on the Hill to bring this problem to a resolution that supports the workers who have done nothing wrong.”