Episode 6: ‘The End of the Line’
Producer/Director Alyse Shorland
With its focus on a future of self-driving cars and renewable fuels, General Motors is leaving some manufacturing plants like the one in Lordstown, Ohio, in its rearview. Workers who spent a lifetime at the plant — and constructed their lives around G.M. as they built the company’s cars — are losing their jobs. But this round of layoffs is different from the decades-old shifts in the auto industry. Competition from Silicon Valley, pressure from Wall Street and fundamental changes in how we get around are forcing the company to transform itself. It may be easy to say it’s not fair, but the American economy may not have room for fairness anymore.
“The Weekly” visits Lordstown to talk to some workers before their last shift, and our correspondent sits down with G.M.’s chief executive, Mary Barra, who says she’s trying to save the car company.
Where Are They Now?
Rick Marsh’s future is uncertain since the Lordstown plant stopped production. He built a swing set for his daughter, Abby, who turned 14 in May. G.M. could send Rick a forced transfer notice, at which point he and his family would have to decide whether he should leave to work elsewhere while his wife and daughters stay put, or whether he should turn down the job and give up his benefits. He took résumé writing classes, just in case.
Dave Green, president of the Local 1112 of the United Automobile Workers, is still working at Union Hall. He’s hoping that if he receives a transfer notice from G.M., the company will send him to Toledo, where he can still be close to his college-age daughters.
Senator Sherrod Brown reintroduced in March an updated version of his American Cars, American Jobs Act, which tries to encourage consumers to buy cars — including electric vehicles — built in the United States, and eliminates tax breaks for companies making cars overseas. After meeting with Mary Barra, the chief executive of G.M., last month to discuss the Lordstown plant, he said, “It was not as productive as I’d hoped.”
Mary Barra said last month that G.M. still wants to sell the Lordstown plant. The company recently announced it would invest $300 million to build new electric vehicles at its Orion factory near Detroit. It will also invest $150 million in a truck plant in Flint, Mich., and $24 million to build trucks in Indiana. The company reported almost $35 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2019.
The closing of the Lordstown plant has disrupted thousands of lives and upended politics in a county that flipped from Democrat to Republican in the 2016 presidential race, and where candidates are making their pitches for 2020. Read Sabrina’s article about Lordstown voters’ ambivalence toward President Trump.
The president tried to throw Lordstown a lifeline in May when he announced that a small, little-known manufacturer of electric vehicles would buy the G.M. plant. It isn’t a done deal, and few people had much faith it would replace many of the lost jobs.
When the plant made its last car in March, it marked the end of a way of life that Lordstown had known for a half-century, when almost everything in town revolved around the G.M. plant.
G.M.’s announcement in November 2018 that it was shuttering the Lordstown plant and four others caught many people by surprise. Wall Street responded enthusiastically to the news, sending the carmaker’s stock up nearly 5 percent that day.
Listen to Sabrina talk about the political fallout of the G.M. plant shutdown on “The Daily” podcast.
Director of Photography Vanessa Carr
Additional Cinematography Andreas Burgess
Video Editors Adrienne Haspel and Pierre Takal
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen and Liz Day
Associate Producer Brennan Cusack