Sen. Rob Portman Supports UAW Lawsuit Against GM

Chevy Cruze banner on the west end of the GM Lordstown complex. [Tim Rudell / WKSU]
GM Lordstown plant [Tim Rudell / WKSU]

Ohio's Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman says he welcomes a lawsuit filed by the United Auto Workers that accuses General Motors of breach of contract for closing several factories, including its Lordstown assembly plant.

He said the impact of the planned closure is already rippling through the economy of the Mahoning Valley and making a bad situation worse.

“These suppliers are starting to shutter their doors too.  So I support what the UAW is trying to do, which is to get them to make good on their commitments and to keep production at that plant,” Portman said.

The lawsuit centers around a clause in the 2015 collective bargaining agreement between GM and the UAW. It says no plants will be closed or sold during the term of the contract that's in effect until September 14 of this year.

The UAW says GM's decision to “unallocate” plants in Ohio, Maryland and Michigan violates that agreement because it was not due to conditions beyond the control of the company, such as a market-related volume decline or an act of God. The union is asking the U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio to order GM to halt the planned closures and to award damages to employees.

Portman says if GM pulls out of Lordstown, he believes that will be the end of the company's auto assembly work in Ohio, though he did note GM still has a powertrain plant in Toledo. The Lordstown factory, which most recently has made the compact Chevrolet Cruze, is expected to cease production next week.

“We're the car state, you know,” Portman said. “We've got suppliers in that area that are just having to make tough decisions right now. We need to have an answer, and we need it soon.”

Several auto suppliers in the Lordstown area have announced layoffs, including Leadec and Magna Seating. 

Portman says he and other officials have spoken to rival automakers about buying the massive Lordstown plant, but they would prefer that GM stay.

“We're not going to give up,” Portman said. “I mean, they've (GM) got the contract, they've got the workers, they've got the experience in Youngstown. Remember, this was the best plant in all of North America for them last year in terms of quality, fewest number of defects.”

A request for comment from attorneys for the UAW went unanswered, but this statement was posted along with the lawsuit on the union's web site:

“For UAW members in GM Warren Transmission Operations, GM Lordstown Assembly and in the GM GPS Baltimore plant in Maryland, the UAW is determined to leave no stone unturned to make sure that their contractual rights are honored. The UAW believes that General Motors is in breach of the 2015 Collective Bargaining terms.”

General Motors responded in its own statement:

“The announcements made by General Motors on November 26 do not violate the provisions of the UAW-GM National Agreement. We continue to work with the UAW on solutions to our business challenges. We have no further comments at this time on the lawsuit filed by the UAW.”

This is the UAW's second lawsuit against GM. A suit in January claims GM violated the contract by using temporary workers at its plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., rather than workers set for layoffs.

A hearing on that suit is scheduled for March 8 at the federal courthouse in Youngstown.

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