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US lawmakers push GM CEO Mary Barra to scrap Ohio job cut plans

Key Points
  • GM CEO Mary Barra starts meeting with lawmakers from areas slated to lose jobs in the company's cuts.
  • Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown of Ohio met with Barra on Wednesday and pushed her to move production to the company's Lordstown plant rather than close it.
  • Labor leaders worry that GM will ship the jobs overseas.
Mary Barra
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

U.S. lawmakers are pressing General Motors CEO Mary Barra against following through with plans to cut up to 14,000 jobs, two senators said after emerging from the closed-door meeting.

She's meeting privately with several lawmakers representing regions that will be hit hard by the cuts, congressional aides said.

Three Ohio lawmakers — Republican Sen. Rob Portman, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan — met with her Wednesday. They've decried GM's plan to close its Lordstown assembly plant in their home state.

General Motors CEO talks with senators about planned job cuts, plant closings

After his meeting with Barra, Portman told reporters she "is willing to keep an open mind" about re-purposing the facility, but "does not want to raise expectations." He and Brown said they are pushing for GM to either move production from Mexico to Ohio or build one of their new electric vehicles in Lordstown.

The lawmakers have "pushed [Barra] hard" about expediting GM's decision on whether to shut down the plant, Brown said. The automaker has said it will stop making its Chevy Cruze model in Ohio by March.

Portman said he also spoke to President Donald Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta about keeping the plant open. Trump has pressured GM to keep its operations in the U.S., even threatening to pull all government subsidies for the company.

Ryan, who met separately with Barra, said he's heard from "countless people across Northeast Ohio who are scared for their financial security and their community's future."

"I conveyed that to Mary Barra today and once more insisted that GM do everything it can to place a new product at the Lordstown plant," he said. "These are not just numbers on a page, but people's lives at stake. I also reaffirmed my desire to work with her, the administration, and my colleagues on the Hill to bring this problem to a resolution that supports the workers who have done nothing wrong."

Mary Barra, chief executive officer of General Motors (GM), arrives for a meeting with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Capitol Hill, December 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. GM is under fire for plans to cut around 8,000 salaried workers and 3,300 hourly workers in the United States. 
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Maryland lawmakers issued a joint statement following their meeting with Barra, saying they reiterated their "shock and dismay" at GM's plan to cut jobs at the Baltimore Operations plant in White Marsh, Maryland. The plant employs 350 employees and contractors and makes light truck transmissions and electric motors.

"In addition to a $50 billion taxpayer bailout and a tax cut from the Republican tax law, GM has received nearly $115.5 million in federal, state and local grants exclusively for its White Marsh facility," the group said, referring to the federal bailout GM received after declaring bankruptcy in 2009, during the depths of the financial crisis. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes signed the statement.

They called on GM to "return these grants to the taxpayers by providing re-training and new opportunities to affected employees."

Barra said in a statement that her discussions with legislators from both states were constructive, and she shares their concerns.

"These were very difficult decisions — decisions I take very personally," Barra said. "I informed the members that many hourly employees at the impacted U.S. plants will have the opportunity to work at other U.S. GM plants and that we are committed to working with them to minimize the impact on the communities."

Salaried workers affected by the cuts will be offered help finding new jobs, she added.

Of the 14,000 job cuts, 2,250 workers have already taken voluntary buyouts, according to the company. Roughly 5,750 salaried workers and 6,000 hourly employees will be laid off. Half of the hourly workers are in Canada with the other half in the U.S.

Barra was scheduled to meet Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, among other lawmakers, on Thursday.

GM also plans to cut production at two plants in Michigan and in Ontario.

The automaker has said the factories aren't running at full capacity and are building mostly slow-selling and less-profitable cars. GM has said some of the jobs may be shifted to other facilities, but labor leaders say they worry the move is a pretext to move more jobs outside the United States.

"It's important for GM and Mary Barra to have very serious conversations with members," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said in a statement Tuesday. "Honestly, they should be having these critical conversations more often so we can keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S."