GM in talks to sell Lordstown plant

Photo Provided Inside the General Motors Plant in Lordstown. General Motors plans to sell its shuttered factory in Lordstown, to a company that builds electric trucks. President Donald Trump announced the deal on Twitter.

LORDSTOWN — A deal that would breathe new life into the idled General Motors assembly plant is being negotiated, but if an agreement comes to pass it would end all hope of the automaker reopening the facility it made vehicles at for 53 years.

GM confirmed Wednesday it is in the early stages of talks with Workhorse Group Inc., an electric truck maker in the Greater Cincinnati area, to sell the facility that stopped making the Chevrolet Cruze on March 6.

But first, an agreement with United Auto Workers, which represents workers at the facility, is needed, said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes responded to Wednesday’s announcement by saying that “General Motors should assign a product to the Lordstown facility and continue operating it.”

“A federal lawsuit filed by the UAW over the closing of Lordstown, Baltimore and Warren (Michigan) facilities is still pending, and the UAW will continue its effort to protect the contractual rights of its members at these locations,” Dittes said.

The contract expires Sept. 14. National negotiations are to begin in July.

“We will monitor this situation as it develops to determine what course of action will most benefit UAW-represented workers at General Motors,” Dittes said.

Should this sale finalize, the fate of the plant — widely thought to be in the hands of negotiators with the UAW and GM when they sit down later this year to hash out a new collective bargaining agreement — already will have been sealed and GM won’t be part of its future.

Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1112 at the plant, said he supports Dittes.

“We’ve been part of the family for 53 years and we want to continue to be part of the family … we’d like to see them (GM) put a future product right here in beautiful Lordstown, Ohio,” Green said.

“Our members here at Local 1112 have put in a form of purgatory since Nov. 26 and I don’t think this changes that,” Green said. “I have all the confidence in Terry Dittes that he will do what is best for our members.”

GM would not be involved with Workhorse’s operations if the deal happens, said U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland.

“We were trying to get General Motors engaged again to keep General Motors there, that way General Motors and UAW workers could stay there, they could continue to build their pension there within the General Motors company, but that is not the case,” Ryan said. “The General Motors workers are being asked to leave and go to other facilities.”

Joining the announcement was news that GM is investing $700 million in plants in Toledo, Moraine and Parma, and adding more than 450 manufacturing jobs, which, Ryan said, might ease the burden on displaced Lordstown workers who may be able to stay with the company at another plant in Ohio rather than travel far.

But, “it’s not going to be a General Motors facility, it’s going to be a different company with a different package and we’re going to work real closely with them if this deal goes through to try to make that the best possible facility we could possibly make it,” Ryan said.

News of the negotiations was broken by President Donald Trump when he tweeted just before 11:30 a.m. he was informed by GM CEO Mary Barra that “subject to a UAW agreement, etc.,” GM would be selling the facility.

GM confirmed the talks on its website, stating Workhorse and an affiliated, newly formed entity led by Workhorse founder Steve Burns, would acquire the facility. Workhorse would hold a minority interest in the new entity.

“This potential agreement creates a positive outcome for all parties involved and will help solidify the leadership of Workhorse’s role in the EV community,” said Workhorse CEO Duane Hughes.

The first vehicle the company plans to build if the sale goes through would be a commercial electric pickup truck, “blending Workhorse’s technology with Lordstown’s manufacturing expertise,” Burns said.

GM spokesman Dan Flores said the deal has the potential to bring a significant number of production jobs back to Lordstown. Workhorse, he said, is in the commercial and fleet business.

“We are obviously very optimistic about this opportunity, but to be very clear, the deal is not done,” Flores said.

“We certainly think this is the best opportunity for Lordstown to move forward because at this point, there is no product allocated for Lordstown,” Flores said.

Workhorse is among several companies vying for a multibillion U.S. Postal Service contract to supply the agency its next vehicle.

DeWine said he was told by GM to start up, Workhorse would employ hundreds. That number would “be significantly higher” should Workhorse win the federal contract, he said.

“For this to create significant jobs in the Mahoning Valley, in Lordstown, within a relatively short period of time, you have to have the contract,” said DeWine, adding the push on the USPS to award Workhorse the agreement would have the “full force” of his administration and JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development arm.

Whether the deals moves forward initially isn’t necessarily contingent on Workhorse winning the USPS contract, Ryan said.

“I don’t think that the post office contract opportunity, and it’s just an opportunity at this point … is going to have a lot to do with the initial deal,” Ryan said. “I’m hoping it can move forward without that because if not, that contract is months and months away from even having an RFP (request for proposals) let out for that so I don’t think that is going to have any bearing at this point.”

Green said he received several calls from union members curious as to how the sale might affect the union, but he doesn’t have answers to their or his questions regarding the announcement just yet.

“It’s too early to tell,” Green said.