WASHINGTON — Angry senators sought to convince General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on Wednesday to save a car plant in Ohio, but failed to secure any commitment from her on the heels of GM’s announcement it is slashing 14,000 jobs nationwide.
Barra told Ohio Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, that she would “keep an open mind but does not want to raise expectations” about the fate of the plant in Lordstown, Portman told reporters after the lawmakers met privately with Barra.
Barra herself told reporters that GM was taking the steps it had to take to respond to a quickly evolving industry, and insisted the company was trying to be a “good corporate citizen.”
“We’re working very, very hard to make sure General Motors is around for several decades in a leadership position, and can provide jobs and support the communities and the stakeholders that are involved with the company,” she said.
It was Barra’s first public appearance since GM’s announcement last week that it would be stopping production at five North America plants, including the one in Lordstown, Ohio, and cutting 15 percent of its salaried workforce.
GM’s announcement has frustrated lawmakers of both parties, and produced outraged outbursts and demands from President Donald Trump. The president told the Wall Street Journal regarding the Lordstown plant: “We will all together get the point across to General Motors. And they better damn well open up a new plant there very quickly.”
Just last year Trump had visited nearby Youngstown and urged supporters not to move from the area, promising them: “We’re going to get those jobs coming back. And we’re going to fill up those factories, or rip them down and build brand-new ones.”
GM cited lagging sales of the Chevrolet Cruze manufactured at the Lordstown plant, whose idling will cost 1,500 workers their jobs next year. Brown and Portman said they argued for producing a different product in Lordstown, such as one of the new lines of electric vehicles GM has announced it is rolling out.
Barra listened to their arguments, the senators said, and agreed to talk to the United Auto Workers union about speeding up upcoming contract negotiations to arrive at more certainty about the fate of the Lordstown plant and the workers employed there. She also said that she is working to place the Lordstown workers at other GM facilities where possible.
Brown has criticized GM over its announced closures partly citing the new corporate tax cut that will benefit the company. GM also got a $50 billion taxpayer bailout following the auto industry collapse a decade ago, which the company has largely repaid.
“We will be forever grateful for the assistance that the U.S. government provided General Motors and we’re trying to make sure we’re good corporate citizens and continue to provide jobs and provide vehicles and transportation that customers want in this country,” Barra said. “That’s what I think can be the most responsible thing that we can do to thank the American taxpayers for what they did for us.”
Barra’s comments in a Senate office building hallway were interrupted by a heckler shouting “What about my friends and family? … Fifteen hundred workers are out of a job right before Christmas!”