Category Archives: Manufacturing

‘We’re the Sacrificial Lamb’: Lordstown Workers On the UAW Plant Closures

By Carter Eugene Adams
Organizing Work via Portside

 

Nov 11, 2019 – The Monday after Thanksgiving last year, workers at the General Motors Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio were called in for a 9 a.m. meeting. This was a rare occurrence.

“I don’t know, was it three sentences long maybe? ‘Hey, you’re unallocated.’ …No one had ever heard of ‘unallocated’,” says John Sandquist, Jr., a 25-year employee of GM. “We didn’t know what that term meant… Basically, it meant ‘you guys are closing.’”

The Lordstown plant is the former home of the Chevy Cruze and 1,600 workers. For almost a year now, no product has been coming out of the plant, with workers transferred, forced into early retirement or just out of work. Over the past year, GM has transferred over 700 workers from Lordstown to various plants across the country, mostly out of Ohio. According to the tentative agreement between GM and the UAW, the plant closure will be permanent.

Sonya Woods, a 25-year employee of GM, who was transferred to Bowling Green Kentucky, says she had to either move, or lose everything she’s worked towards.

“Gotta go or I lose my pension, lose my benefits,” said Woods. “They got us screwed. There’s a big group that have ‘95 seniority, 25 years, and we lose a lot if we don’t follow it. We don’t have much choice.”

Last week, outside of the shuttered factory, four workers held the picket line, along with 49,000 other GM employees still on strike, even as news of the proposed agreement between GM and the UAW started to circulate. The four were getting ready to transition to other plants when the strike was called. The locals at their new plants allowed them to come back to Ohio to do their strike duty at their home plant, as the Lordstown plant closure was one of the issues on the table between GM and the UAW.

At the picket, workers stood around a burn barrel. Harsh orange streetlamps illuminated an empty, fenced-in parking lot. The 6.2 million-square-foot behemoth factory acted as an eerie monument to what was once an industrial hub in northeastern Ohio. It was silent except for the drone of trucks driving by on the Ohio Turnpike.

“This used to be non-stop traffic, non-stop. Look, nothing!” said Agnes Hernandez, a 23-year GM employee.

“This is the truck gate,” added Sandquist.

“There would be lines, remember?” replied Hernandez. “We’d have lines of trucks coming out here.”

After a moment, Hernandez realized Sandquist didn’t have his signature clothing item: his orange vest.

“Go get your vest on! Come on, OVS!” Agnes jokingly shouted.

This group of friends, who spent nearly every day together in this plant for decades, called themselves the “Orange Vest Society.” The orange vest is standard attire for workers in the plant. But whether or not a given worker was wearing orange was semantics. Those in OVS felt they had another layer of protection between them and management. Having the solidarity and at times friendship of those on the shop floor gave workers a sense of “you watch my back, I watch yours.”

The origins of this group are vague, but as Dan Santangelo, a 25-year employee of GM put it, the roots of it are solidarity and comradery. “Management would start something with one of us, and it just started as a joke: ‘You mess with one person in Orange Vest you mess with us all.’ We don’t know who came up with it, maybe it might have been Jeff” — OVS member and fellow worker on the picket line – “came up and said, ‘we should call ourselves the Orange Vest Society.’ So, that’s what we did. On our last day here, we spray painted it on the wall behind out team center.”

The proposed contract appears set for ratification. Besides the plant in Lordstown, it cements the closure of two more GM facilities — Warren transmission and Baltimore transmission — three of the four that were on the table.

GM’s stated the reason for the Lordstown closure was the Cruze’s poor sales performance in the United States, with consumers opting for larger SUVs and trucks. But months after the shuttering, GM announced the production of a strikingly similar vehicle , the Onix, to be built and sold in Mexico. GM has also announced its revitalized production of the Chevy Blazer in Mexico, shortly after shuttering the Janesville, Wisconsin plant where it used to be made.

Workers think the production of the Onix could have taken place at Lordstown Assembly and kept the plant open. Sandquist feels the continued closure of Lordstown has little to do with the product they produced and more to do with GM attempting to fracture worker power and solidarity.

“This community, this plant — we’ve always built a good product here for 53 years,” said Sandquist. “I believe it’s something personal they have against the local 1112, it’s something personal against this plant because the union was strong here and we cared about the community. They’re more concerned about profits.”

For workers in Lordstown, transfers to plants hours from home, buyouts and early retirements are their consolation prize.

In 2007, workers were understanding of concessions needed to keep the company alive and acted accordingly. 12 years later, with record profits recorded and salaries for company executives in the tens of millions, workers want what they’re owed.

But trying to negotiate that has been difficult. The six weeks of the strike have seen agreements proposed and then removed in the same day. Negotiations stalled, started and stalled again. The latest draft of the proposed contract is four volumes long.

As Parma, Ohio UAW Local 1005 President Mike Caldwell explains, it’s necessary. “Every single thing in [our] shop was negotiated,” said Caldwell. “At one point in time, someone had to fight for it and negotiate for it.”

The new contract between the UAW and GM meets many demands that sent workers to the picket line. Those include a revised healthcare plan; gradual wage increases and a path for temporary workers to be hired on full-time.

By not pushing further on running product through Lordstown, UAW officials in Detroit have affectively abandoned shuttered plants in pursuit of other demands. Lordstown assembly, Warren transmission and Baltimore transmission plants are the union’s biggest concessions.

“We’re the sacrificial lamb in this one,” Sandquist said. “They’re gonna sacrifice Lordstown for the good of the whole, and the whole UAW membership. I get their point, but it sucks for us, and I’m pissed off about it.”

Caldwell weighed in on Lordstown remaining closed after members of local 1005 voted to ratify the contract, 438 for, 404 against. “It’s still kind of a sad spot for everyone that that plant is still slated to close,” he said. “It’s very disappointing, with that plant closing, that destroys that entire community.”

Keeping the Lordstown plant closed means workers have a difficult decision to make: either lose their jobs or transfer to another plant. Workers who did not qualify for early retirement were given the one-time offer to transfer and continue working until they’re eligible to collect their pensions and retirement benefits. The new proposed agreement offers a buyout, but according to the highlights of the agreement, distributed by UAW, that buyout doesn’t offer much.

For workers who choose the buyout option, they agree to terminate their employment and benefits, save for some pension benefits. In return, they’re offered a sum of money, between $7,500 and $75,000, based on years of service.

While that may seem like a lot offered, that money is just that: money. No benefits, no health care. And for people living paycheck-to-paycheck, those benefits are all they have. For those with more seniority, they’re choosing between cash or decades worth of pension and retirement benefits.

The four members of the Orange Vest Society decided to transfer so they can make it to their pension and keep their benefits. They’ll be eight hours from Lordstown in Bowling Green, Kentucky and six hours away in Bedford, Indiana — leaving their families and their community.

“It sucks. Every one of these people right here around this burn barrel is going through that,” said Sandquist. “He has a family that is here and he’s gonna be eight hours away, same with Agnes, same with this man Dan over here. He’s got a wife, two kids. Agnes has got grandkids now for Christ’s sake, she ain’t gonna see them grow up.”

“What do I do now? Facetime?” said Hernandez. “I mean you can’t see everything on Facetime. You know, it’s like my grandson, he’ll be two in January and he looks at me through the phone it’s almost like he has to do a double-take to see and hear my voice. Just so he knows me, I have to keep repeating who I am. It’s so, it’s horrible. It’s like, ‘oh my god, he’s gonna forget me.’ Being that young he’s gonna forget who I am, you know, and that to me is just heartbreaking.”

In addition to uprooting their entire lives and leaving family here in Ohio, this also means the end of the Orange Vest Society.

Even off the shop floor, through the upheaval of the plant closure, OVS became a way for workers to look out for each other.

“I went through a very bad time before I had to go to Bedford (Indiana), I was almost as low as killing myself, that’s how low I was.” said Santangelo, as a result of having to leave his family, his home and his community. “Not only did my blood family reach out to me, but these guys did as well,” he said. “Jeff would call every other day to check in. ‘How you doing?’ He would try to get me talking. That’s. That’s the Orange Vest Society.”

 I think this was our mentality.We came to work to have fun and to work. In that order,” explained Santangelo. “We made it enjoyable. We made it worth our while to be here.”

“Yeah, but the place is so miserable you had to do something,” added Sandquist.

As the night goes on, the conversation shifts and changes, from heated discussions about the proposed contract to jokes about how many liquor bars and sex shops there are in Kentucky. The remaining OVS members talk about home, about what, and who, they’re leaving in order to provide. There are also long moments of silence on the picket line, between the jokes and contract talk. Against the backdrop of the shuttered plant, there’s this feeling that this is the end of an era.

“It was like a second family,” said Hernandez. “I mean we hung out together, we’ve known each other for 2o-plus years. These are my brothers.”

Agnes and Jeff go into the Styrofoam cooler next to the wood pile under a small nylon canopy. After a few minutes the two emerge with plastic cups. Dan had declined the offer earlier and joins the toast emptyhanded.

After the toast, the group sits and talks for a while longer before slowly, one by one, leaving.

Shortly after midnight, Sandquist is packing up his chairs and getting ready to head back to the union hall to sign out before finally going home. Before he heads out, he reflects on the future of the Orange Vest Society. “We might end up having a little chapter down in Bowling Green, one in Bedford, some of our friends up in Toledo will have a little — there’s a couple of us everywhere but the original core group is split up,” he says.

“That’s the stuff that pisses you off even more, you know, it’s the friendships, your family, your secondary family. You’re not gonna spend time with them no more, or you know, have them relationships. Talk on the phone or text, see what’s up with them but not like you use to. Kinda at the end, it’s over and it’s sad.”

Continue reading ‘We’re the Sacrificial Lamb’: Lordstown Workers On the UAW Plant Closures

High-Tech Manufacturing: Aliquippa Summer Camp Opens New World to Students

Kordell Boose, 17, of Aliquippa takes instruction on finishing an aluminum cast during the Titans of Pittsburgh Summer Camp’s field trip Wednesday to Robert Morris University’s engineering lab. [Lucy Schaly/For BCT]

Learning about career opportunities in the manufacturing industry is the purpose of the pilot Titans of Pittsburgh Summer Program developed by Catalyst Connection and Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ.

By Marsha Keefer
Beaver County Times

Aug 10, 2019 – MOON TWP. — Students, most of them from Aliquippa, gathered Wednesday at a robotic work cell in an engineering lab at Robert Morris University’s John Jay Center for the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science.

For most, it was a seminal moment. The two previous days, they sat at computers at the Family Life Center housed in the Church in the Round in Aliquippa, and used software to design a product. Now, those drafts would be programmed into a computer-controlled milling machine to carve their designs in a rectangular block of aluminum — a process that took all of seven minutes.

What had been merely a concept would come to life.

Most of the 23 students enrolled in the four-day summer camp — high school juniors and seniors and a few recent graduates — had never worked with computer-aided design (CAD) programs and certainly not computer numerical control (CNC) routers, said Scott Dietz, director of workforce initiatives at Catalyst Connection, an economic development organization based in Pittsburgh that helps small- to medium-sized manufacturers improve competitive performance.

“We’re seeing sparks happening already this week in the few days we’ve had with them,” he said. “We’re seeing light bulbs going off. The students are seeing stuff they haven’t been exposed to before. We think the program is definitely a success.”

Essentially, learning about career opportunities in the manufacturing industry, is the purpose of the pilot Titans of Pittsburgh Summer Program developed by Catalyst Connection and Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ, a manufacturing workforce development program that engages high school students in robotics competitions to stimulate interest in manufacturing careers.

Catalyst Connection works with 2,800 manufacturing companies across 12 counties in western Pennsylvania, Beaver County included, Dietz said.

“When we go in their doors, the first thing they tell us when we ask ‘what is their biggest pain point’ is workforce — lack of workforce,” he said.

Dietz estimated 30 percent of the current workforce will retire in the next 10 years and that’s compounded by the large number of job needs now.

“We recently did a survey of 100 of those manufacturers who told us they have 2,300 job openings,” he said. Extrapolating those numbers, Catalyst Connection projects a shortage of about 20,000 workers, Dietz said. Continue reading High-Tech Manufacturing: Aliquippa Summer Camp Opens New World to Students

U.S. Steel’s Market Value Drops $5.5 Billion Thanks to Trump’s Tariffs 

Pittsburgh City Paper
According to several reports, Pittsburgh’s largest steel company — and the second largest in the country, has lost about 70 percent of its market value thanks to forces put into place by President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs.

Since Trump announced tariffs on foreign-made steel 16 months ago, U.S. Steel’s market value has dropped by $5.5 billion. Even though steelworkers at U.S. Steel lauded the tariffs when Trump announced them last year, the Los Angeles Times points out how the dynamics set in motion by those tariffs actually hurt steel companies with legacy steel mills with blast furnaces, like U.S. Steel.

From the LA Times: “Exuberance over the levies dramatically boosted U.S. output just as the global economy was cooling, undercutting demand. That dropped prices, creating a stark divide between companies such as Nucor Corp., which uses cheaper-to-run electric-arc furnaces to recycle scrap into steel products, and those including U.S. Steel Corp., with more costly legacy blast furnaces.”

The tariffs boosted steel production for all domestic steel producers in the short term, but as actual demand for steel dropped, U.S. Steel struggled to compete with lower-cost competitors like Nucor Corp. With international steel nudged out of the market by the tariffs, domestic steelmakers responded to fill those gaps, but U.S. Steel got beat in the market by steelmakers with more efficient electric-arc furnaces. Basically, the tariffs created a new market of mostly domestic steelmakers, but the new market actually gave more advantages to Nucor and less to U.S. Steel.

Bank of America analyst Timna Tanners told the LA Times it was “ironic” that the tariffs are “punishing some steel companies.” She also noted the dangers of the steel industry to add capacity without sufficient demand.

Since March 2018, U.S. Steel has idled two of its steel mills in Michigan and Indiana. In the past, U.S. Steel had voiced support from Trump’s tariffs.

Another steel company in the region is also claiming negative effects from the tariffs. Last week, steel producer NLMK USA in Mercer County laid off between 80 and 100 workers. According to WESA, the CEO of NLMK USA blamed the cuts on Trump’s steel tariffs, saying that the Russian-owned company faced steep prices on Russian-imported steel slabs.

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh), who has been critical of Trump’s tariffs, says both situations show the tariffs are not working as promised.

“As out-of-work steelworkers, like those at NLMK in Sharon, can attest, the administration’s protectionist steel tariffs have not resulted in the promised financial gains even for steel companies,” says Toomey. “This outcome demonstrates that imposing arbitrary taxes on imported products can distort prices, disrupt supply chains, destroy jobs, and increase prices for consumers without sufficiently offsetting benefits.”

Even though U.S. Steel has lost most of its market value since the tariffs started, the company still reported a large fourth-quarter profit last year, netting $592 million.

In May, the company announced a $1 billion investment to upgrade its facilities in West Mifflin, Braddock, and Clairton. With the upgrades, these three facilities will become the central source for high-strength, lightweight steel used for the automobile sector.

But with the upgrade comes an increase in efficiency, and experts told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that U.S. Steel will likely cut jobs at the Mon Valley facilities in the future.

And it appears Trump’s tariffs haven’t had that positive of an impact on steel jobs nationwide. According to the Washington Post, the tariffs “didn’t lead to a major increase in manufacturing jobs, largely because modern mills don’t require more manpower to operate at a higher capacity.”

Continue reading U.S. Steel’s Market Value Drops $5.5 Billion Thanks to Trump’s Tariffs 

The Road Not Taken

The shuttering of the GM works in Lordstown will also bury a lost chapter in the fight for workers’ control.

By Sarah Jaffe
The New Republic

June 24, 2019 – Illustration by Nicolas Ortega Chuckie Denison took the podium at the United Steelworkers hall in Canton, Ohio, in his ever-present blue Good Jobs Nation T-shirt, flanked by people holding protest signs. One handmade sign read “Promises Made, Promises Broken”; it featured a likeness of President Trump, who’d flown into Ohio that day for a big-money fund-raiser at a nearby country club. Another sign pointed out that Lordstown, home of the iconic General Motors auto plant, was only 49.4 miles away. Still another read, “We will lose 43,000 jobs because of Lordstown closing.”

Denison leaned into the microphone and told the assembled crowd his story, introducing himself as a third-generation GM autoworker. “I started in Dayton, Ohio. I watched that plant close. I went to Shreveport, Louisiana. I watched that plant close. I come here to Lordstown, Ohio, happy to be back in my home state. I’d never have thought that Lordstown would close.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Denison said, Trump came to northeast Ohio and promised better days. “He looked the people in the eyes and told them, ‘Do not sell your homes. The jobs are coming back.’”

The jobs never came back. When GM announced, last November, that the Lordstown plant would be closed as part of a restructuring plan, the community held out hope that the company would decide to retool the plant, and rehire some of the laid-off workers. But the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the Lordstown assembly line on March 6—a no-frills white model that workers draped in an American flag and posed behind for a last photo.

Variations of this scene have played out in countless shuttered plants and deindustrializing communities over the past four decades. But with the closure of Lordstown, workers are losing more than paychecks, retirement plans, and long-term job security; they’re also burying a lost chapter in union organizing—the moment in the early 1970s when the militant leaders of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the Lordstown facility briefly revived the demand for greater control in the workplace. With the specter of Trump, the self-advertised mogul-savior of the manufacturing sector, lurking offstage, the last days of Lordstown feel like a parable about what becomes of workers in a political economy that hinges on their systematic disenfranchisement—on the factory floor and in the public sphere alike.

And as a twenty-first–century parable of the workplace, it naturally involved Donald Trump spouting off on Twitter. Nearly two weeks after the last car left the plant, Trump fired off a couple of tweets telling David Green, president of UAW Local 1112, to “get his act together and produce.” That outburst, combined with the news that Trump was heading to Ohio but skipping the plant, led to the press conference where Denison had laid into GM and Trump.

At the same event, Ohio Democratic Representative Tim Ryan—who’s mounting a 2020 run at the presidency—spoke about how plant closures destabilize the entire community. “You hear from a football booster, ‘So-and-so had to transfer. He was treasurer of the football boosters. So-and-so had to transfer. They ran this Boy Scout group,’” he said. “That’s what workers are…. They put their time in. You do everything right and then when you get home, you go coach Little League.” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten joined him in calling for GM to reopen the plant. “If parents lose their jobs, it devastates the community,” she told me afterward. “Teachers understand that; they are in some ways the first responders.”

Alyssa Brookbank is one of those teachers and the president of the Lordstown Teachers Association. She’s seen the effects of the shutdown up close. “Students know they are going to have to leave some of their family and close friends behind,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle it, and it is not their fault. It is a lot to put on the shoulders of young kids. This is much bigger than just GM. It is going to affect other businesses in ways we don’t even realize yet. It is going to have a ripple effect.”

Denison has the words “Union Thug” tattooed across his forearm in sweeping script. Higher up on his arm, he told me, he has a tattoo of the state of Ohio. He returned to Ohio, to work at Lordstown, just in time for the bottom to fall out of the economy in 2008. By that time, he had enough seniority with GM—having hired on right out of high school in 1998—to survive the wave of layoffs that came with GM’s bankruptcy filing in the wake of the crash. “The biggest thing wasn’t the money,” he says now. “It was the fact that I had a pension.” Because of those benefits, he was able to retire this year after 20 years of factory labor. He’s one of the lucky ones. Continue reading The Road Not Taken

GM’s Lordstown Chevy Cruze Plant Closes Amidst Protests

Employees of the General Motors Lordstown Complex were the largest group of workers from a single Ohio employer were displaced by mass layoffs 

It may re-open in the summer. For 1,600 workers, that’s not much comfort at all.

By David Grossman
Mechanics Illustrated

Mar 7, 2019 – General Motors’ Lordstown Assembly plant was in continual operation since 1966 through yesterday, March 6, 2019. The idling of the plant affected 1,600 workers and is the largest of the U.S-based GM four plants that will close this year.

Originally dedicated to iconic cars like the Chevy Impala and Pontiac Firebird, since 2011 the plant built electric Chevy Cruzes. Through the years, the planet built over 16 million cars. However, amidst a restructuring the company decided to discontinue the model in America.

In a press statement, GM said that the Cruze “was a good product and was built with tremendous pride by the Lordstown employees. We know this is an emotional day for our Lordstown team.” Continue reading GM’s Lordstown Chevy Cruze Plant Closes Amidst Protests

Erie, PA: Close To 2,000 Manufacturing Workers Just Went On Strike

After a merger with GE Transportation, the new employer “wants to turn this into an Amazon warehouse,” the union says. ..Bernie Sanders backs strikers

By Dave Jamieson
Huffington Post

Feb 26, 2019 – Nearly 1,700 workers at a GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, went on strike Tuesday, marking the first large-scale work stoppage in the U.S. manufacturing sector in three years.

Union members with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) say the factory’s incoming owner, Pennsylvania-based Wabtec Corp., is trying to impose mandatory overtime, a lower pay scale for new employees, and the use of temporary workers in the facility.

Wabtec just closed an $11 billion deal to merge with GE’s transportation division, which includes the Erie plant where locals have built locomotives for decades.

Workers authorized the union to wage a strike after they failed to secure an interim agreement with Wabtec extending the terms of their contract with GE. As the new employer at the plant, Wabtec is obligated to recognize the union but has the freedom to negotiate its own new contract.

Union members felt they needed to go on strike in order to protect the middle-class wages and high working standards inside the facility, where pay averages around $35 an hour, said Jonathan Kissam, a union spokesman. He added that many workers already volunteer for overtime work but don’t want it to be mandatory, fearing it could ruin weekends with their families.

He also said introducing lower pay for new hires would create a two-tier system inside the plant, causing rifts between different generations of employees.

“This is a multi-generational plant. Some of them, their grandparents worked there,” Kissam said. “So they’re unwilling to sell out their own children.” Continue reading Erie, PA: Close To 2,000 Manufacturing Workers Just Went On Strike

GM Job Losses Fail to Dent Trump Support in Ohio Stronghold–So Far

Not Trump’s fault: Linda Balogh does not blame the US president for the job losses © Jeff Swensen

Auto crisis hits Midwestern region that swung to Republicans in 2016 election

 

By Patti Waldmeir in Warren, Ohio
FinancialTimes

Dec 21, 2018 – “I bet [General Motors’ chief executive] Mary Barra’s hands don’t look or feel like my hands,” said Linda Balogh, 52, as she reflected on the toll that her years on the production line have taken on her body.

Now she is about to lose her job, at the GM Lordstown plant near Youngstown, Ohio. It is one of four US factories that Ms Barra plans to idle next year as the American auto industry embarks on its most extensive restructuring since GM went bankrupt a decade ago.

Ms Balogh will not be the last to face redundancy, as Ford and GM prepare for a US sales downturn and scramble to cut costs so they can invest in new technologies for a future when cars are increasingly self-driving, electric and shared.

GM has said it will cut more than 11,000 jobs in North America, and Ford may cut twice that number, though many will be overseas. The scale of those job losses will hit hardest in areas such as Warren near Youngstown, where the plant is located. It was already a potent symbol of rust belt decline after its steel mills closed 40 years ago, leaving it heavily dependent on a GM plant that will soon stop production. Continue reading GM Job Losses Fail to Dent Trump Support in Ohio Stronghold–So Far