Back in November, when General Motors announced it was closing five plants in the US and Canada, including the one at White Marsh in Baltimore County, local union leaders said they would put up a fight.
But now that GM has announced the plant’s last day will be May 4, the labor leaders seem resigned to their fate and that of nearly 300 workers about to lose their jobs.
Guy White, the United Auto Worker’s shop chairman at White Marsh, has gone from defiantly saying his members weren’t about to walk away from good jobs, to seeing the plant and the workers as pawns in GM’s corporate strategy.
“In my opinion, what they’re doing right now with these plants, it’s a 21st century form of a lockout,” he says. “If you have some plants that are iffy and if you put the people out of work, when we come to the negotiating table we’re talking about jobs. So, I think they did this to gain leverage at the negotiating table.”
But Trevor Thompkins, a GM spokesman in Detroit, says those employees may be able to stay with the company.
“For salaried employees we’ll have opportunities to move to other locations or they’ll be presented with opportunities to retire,” he promised “We have opportunities for about 2,700 people at our other facilities across the United States that are hiring,”
The plant closings are expected to idle some 14,300 workers.
Among those at White Marsh is Kip Hinton, a contract employee whose wife has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He can’t transfer and he’ll lose his health insurance.
“So far as benefits, health benefits, that’s why I’m out here doing this, because my wife,” he says. “I need their benefits more than I need their money, trust me. The type of MRI she gets is about three grand. She needs one of those every year. The medication that she takes, a 30-day supply is $14,000.
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district includes the White Marsh plant, invested a lot of political capital in his votes to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out US auto manufacturers during the 2008 recession. And now, he’s angry.
“General Motors turned their back, it was corporate greed,” he fumed. “We’re USA first and we bailed you out. That’s not what America is and that’s what they’ve done, and I think it’s corporate greed, and they didn’t have to do it.”
It’s simple, says shop chairman White. GM can make more money by sending jobs south of the border.
“GM Mexico, it’s going to be approaching one million vehicles,” he argues. “They go south, they exploit the Mexican workforce. That pick-up truck, some models are made in Fort Wayne, Indiana and some models are made in Mexico. That same truck that somebody’s plopping down $40 or $50,000 for, it could’ve been made in Mexico where people make $3 an hour.
The problem, says Hinton, the contract worker, is manufacturing is dead in the US and it’s not coming back.
“There’s too much offshore, because of the corporate greed,” he says. “Why pay somebody like me 30 bucks an hour when you can pay somebody three bucks an hour, right?”
On the other hand, the building itself has possibilities, says Jim Lighthizer, CEO of Chesapeake Real Estate Group.
“It’s an attractive, good-looking building,” he says. “So, I think the potential for that building to be re-leased or sold to another operating company and user with good-paying jobs is very likely.”
Back at the UAW offices in Baltimore, there’s a blow-up photo on the wall of the old plant on Broening Highway, the place where GM landed in Maryland in 1934.
Today, there’s an Amazon distribution center there. Just last week, Amazon announced that it planned to add another 100,000 square feet to its Baltimore operations, bringing more $14 per hour “e-commerce distribution jobs” to Baltimore. That’s less than half what Kip Hinton is making.