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GM Workers Ready to Fight

AP Photo/ Steve Ruark

When General Motors announced Monday it was shuttering five plants in the US and Canada and idling some 14,300 workers, 300 of them in Baltimore County, company chairman and CEO Mary Barra said it was part of a “transformation.”

The moves, she said in a statement, would make GM “highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us flexibility to invest in the future.”

And a corporate fact sheet issued with the announcement said the company was “optimizing capital expenditures” that would lead to an annual cash savings of approximately $6 billion by 2020.

But Guy White, the United Auto Worker’s shop chairman at the White Marsh plant in Eastern Baltimore County, was more interested in the billions of dollars taxpayers invested in bailing out US auto manufacturers during the 2008 recession.

“The taxpayers gave GM a lot of money to keep them viable, and GM’s now making a lot of money,” he said. “It doesn’t seem fitting that they would just walk away from us. They’ve got plenty of money.

He said workers would fight to keep the plant, which makes transmissions for Chevrolet Silverados and GMC full size pick-up trucks, open.

We’re not about to walk away from this,” he said. “These are good jobs. We’d like to keep continuing to make the product that we make but if that’s not feasible we’ll make anything GM wants to give us.  We can make anything.”

But Kip Hinton, the union's shop chairman for contract work, says it will take more than the union fighting. It will take a bipartisan effort.

“It’s Republicans that work at that plant.  It’s Democrats that work at that plant,” he said. “We’re talking about jobs and lives; people’s lives here. We’ve invested in GM---the workers and the taxpayers.  It’s time that GM started investing in us.”

And Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat who takes office Monday as Baltimore County Executive, says he’ll work with Republican Governor Larry Hogan to save the operation.

“I hope that this isn’t a partisan issue,” he said. “I’d like to work with the Governor and have state resources be coupled with county resources to do whatever we can to keep the plant operating and individuals working and employed there.”

Hogan said in a news conference Monday he would “fight to keep” those jobs.

But for Rob Dinatale, the president of UAW Local 239, which represents the White Marsh workers, it comes down to jobs and families. He’s a lifetime GM employee and so was his dad. Dinatale has moved through five different plants to keep his job with GM over the years, and he says it’s hard for him to imagine moving again.

“It ruins families and breaks up families and causes a lot of unneeded hardships,” he said “If they put the chains on the door, I would have to transfer, if there were a place for me to go.”

The cloosest plant for him would be in Buffalo, New York, or maybe some place in Michigan, Tennessee or Texas.

White, the shop chairman, said plant employees work well with local management. It’s the corporate types in Detroit that are the problem.

“Anything that’s been asked of our membership our membership has risen to the challenge,” he said. “We’ve done anything they’ve asked us to do. And this is what we get.”

His voice trailed off before he spoke again. He said the workers are in a fighting mood now, and the fight is only getting started.