About two weeks ago I stood with others in the bitter cold across from the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. We were there to honor generations of workers who built cars in the factory for over 50 years. We gathered to witness the last Chevy Cruze shipment dispatched after the last shift ended at 3 p.m.
GM Lordstown has sustained the local economy of my hometown for decades. So watching what may be the last workers leave after assembling the last car was a bit like going to a wake for a close friend.
The mood was somber. The bone-chilling air was heavy with a mixture of sadness and uncertainty. Grown men and women, including me, wiped tears from our eyes as we tried to come to terms with the hard times that lay ahead for a community with a history filled with heartache and broken promises.
The Mahoning Valley, in the heart of Northeast Ohio, is no stranger to facing tough times. Those of us who come from the valley see ourselves as fighters who are relentless in the face of adversity. We are doers, but we are also dreamers who want to believe in the promise of a better tomorrow.
It was no surprise that voters in the valley supported Donald Trump for president in 2016. Many people believed that Trump, the billionaire who said he was a world-class negotiator, would fight to keep jobs like the ones at GM Lordstown in the United States.
What did come as a surprise was President Trump’s half-hearted response to the mothballing of the Lordstown plant. Last November, General Motors announced it would be ceasing production of the Chevy Cruze in March, leaving 1,600 people without jobs – 1,600 families whose lives hang in the balance.
The president did not visit the Lordstown GM plant, although he knows how serious the situation is in the community. However, he attended a political fundraising event for his re-election campaign in Canton, Ohio that raised about $3 million.
Since that announcement, President Trump has offered some tough talk, taking swipes at GM CEO Mary Barra and making demands for a new product to replace the Cruze in Lordstown. Just this week, Trump fired off a number of tweets about the fate of the Lordstown plant, blaming everyone from GM’s corporate leadership to the local head of the United Auto Workers union.
Back at home, many were surprised that Trump would attack the local workers for Lordstown’s closure. After all, Trumbull County, where Lordstown is located, voted for Trump in 2016. He was the first Republican to carry the county since 1928.
More importantly, as I can attest from personal knowledge, there is no truth behind the assertion that the local UAW is to blame for putting plant operations on ice.
UAW Local 1112 (and previously UAW Local 1714) had given concessions and negotiated in good faith with GM in order to help keep the plant open and profitable. Yet union leader Dave Green was singled out personally by President Trump to get his act together and produce.
People in Ohio know that the UAW members at Lordstown, along with their leadership, have been producing for years. Our UAW is not your grandfather’s union. Furthermore, Green, in spite of being personally maligned by the president, has made it clear he would rather focus on working with Trump to bring jobs back than get into a petty fight over a tweet.
Green did not take the bait and respond in kind to Trump’s attack on him while answering questions from the press. Green recognizes that it is more productive to find common ground and engage the president to help our area than to stir the pot.
Frankly, I think the local UAW is a great example of how labor unions remain relevant within our economy and our political system in the 21st century. Union voters crossed parties for Trump in many states across the industrial Midwest.
These voters are a necessary part of Trump’s coalition to hold on to the White House. But they can also be the key to a Democratic victory should the party nominate a candidate who can win them back.
It is good to see that Trump has since tried to walk back his heavy-handed approach towards Lordstown. He now seems to be making more statements about bringing the jobs back rather than pointing fingers at who is to blame for their loss.
But President Trump still needs to do more to make it right, both in style and in substance.
The president visited Ohio Wednesday on the heels of his GM tweet storm and toured the Lima Army Tank Plant, where he again voiced criticism of the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The Lima plant had faced possible closure, but remains open and is benefitting by higher defense spending by the federal government.
The president did not visit the Lordstown GM plant, although he knows how serious the situation is in the community. However, he attended a political fundraising event for his re-election campaign in Canton, Ohio that raised about $3 million. Donors paid a minimum of $2,800 to attend the event, while couples paying $70,000 got to have dinner with the president.
The high-dollar fundraiser at a country club was just about an hour away from the shuttered GM Lordstown plant. Swooping in for a gilded event in driving distance from a community that has just lost 1,600 jobs is a slap in the face to the people of the Mahoning Valley. It is bad optics and even worse politics.
Democratic presidential hopefuls are seizing on the opportunity to capitalize on this. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, made it a point to come from Cleveland to Lordstown to show his support.
Yes, this is likely a campaign stunt. But if President Trump does not do something tangible to show the Lordstown community he is serious about fighting for local jobs he runs the risk of losing support in 2020 to someone who is at least pretending to care.
President Trump, we need you in Lordstown. Come and look people in our community in the eye. We are ready to work alongside you and anyone else who is willing to step up and fight for American jobs.