Autoworkers ready to fight GM over its callous layoffs

Last week was a bad week for autoworkers and the future of our domestic industry. On Nov. 26, General Motors (GM) announced its decision to halt production at the Lordstown, Ohio, and Hamtramck, Mich., assembly plants, idling thousands of workers.

Last Friday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), with promises that it would stop companies from closing U.S. factories and opening new ones in low-wage countries like Mexico.

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Unfortunately, as GM’s idling of plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland showed, USMCA, as it stands now, is not strong enough to protect American workers.

GM’s callous decision to reduce or cease operations in American plants, while opening or increasing production in plants in Mexico and China for sales to American consumers, is profoundly damaging to our workforce.

This decision will also affect employment at other GM locations, including in Baltimore and Michigan’s Brownstown and Warren Transmission plants, as well as thousands of supplier jobs and supporting businesses.

How easily GM forgets. 

In 2008, General Motors announced that it had lost $38.7 billion in fiscal year 2007, a record loss for the company. Within months, GM received a bailout of $13.4 billion from U.S. taxpayers through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). When GM filed for bankruptcy, it received another $30 billion in government funding to assist with restructuring. 

By 2013, the U. S. Treasury recovered $39 billion from selling its GM stake. The final direct cost to the Treasury from the GM bailout was approximately $12 billion.

On Nov. 26, GM workers — and all U.S. taxpayers — received a big “thank you” for their help. On their first day back from the Thanksgiving weekend, some 14,200 U.S. employees of General Motors — 8,000 in white-collar jobs and about 6,200 factory workers — were told they were no longer needed.

Make no mistake, this is not about product sales. It is about product dumping. It is about profits at the expense of the people who have grown the company and the communities that supported them. 

Think about it: GM is a major importer of their own brands from China, Canada and Mexico now sold in the United States. Versions of the Chevy Cruze and Impala are assembled in Mexico and Canada, respectively, and imported to the U.S. for purchase.

This year, through October, GM produced 726,000 vehicles in Mexico. Most of those vehicles were shipped to the U.S. for sales to American consumers.

GM’s excess capacity in North America was created by its own investment decisions over the last several years. Leaving U.S. and Canadian plants with low volume is the result of product decisions made by the company.

Lordstown and Hamtramck are not victims of changing consumer demand. They are victims of GM’s decisions to load up their Mexican plants at the expense of their U.S. plants. 

And those decisions continue: GM has moved stronger-selling crossover vehicles and SUVs to Mexico. Those vehicles should have been made here in the U.S. where they are sold.

By disinvesting in U.S. workers and communities, GM is also disinvesting in the consumers they rely on to buy their vehicles. But it’s hard to buy a new truck when you don’t have a job.

This action should serve as a wake-up call for all elected leaders. Relying on corporations to do the right thing does not work. We need tax and trade laws that reward U.S. investment and hold companies accountable for their actions.

They will not go unchallenged by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The UAW and our members will confront this decision by GM through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership. 

We must step away from the anti-worker thinking of seeking simply the lowest labor cost on the planet. The practice of circumventing American labor in favor of nations that tolerate wages less than half of what our American brothers and sisters make must stop.

More importantly, we must understand that these companies, including GM, are no longer in trouble. They are recording annual profits in the tens of billions of dollars. 

GM’s decision is a slap in the face to the U.S. autoworker. It’s a statement that their trust, loyalty and years of dedication aren’t as important as this year’s profits and shareholder gains and that their sacrifices made during the dark days of GM’s bailout  are long forgotten.

American workers and taxpayers are very angry. 

Despite tens of billions of dollars in profit, despite concessions during the recession, despite American taxpayers bailing them out — they turned their backs on the UAW members and U.S. taxpayers — the very people who saved them.

We must all be concerned about protecting jobs and keeping them in this country. The UAW calls on those in power to invest now in the working families dealing with this terrible news. 

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If we want our auto industry to lead in transforming mobility, we must ensure we keep our workers at the forefront of innovation and technology. We must work together to keep manufacturing jobs in this country. It’s an investment in our very future.

UAW members across this country are committed to using every means available to us on behalf of our brothers and sisters at Lordstown, Hamtramck, Baltimore and Warren, Mich. We are committed to investing in the communities they support and in insisting GM return the dedication it has received from the U.S. worker. 

UAW members and U.S. taxpayers invested in GM during their darkest days. Now it is time for GM to invest again in the U.S.

Gary Jones is the president of the United Automobile Workers.