Local auto workers union looks for answers on shutdown of GM’s White Marsh plant

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Image via the UAW Local 239’s Facebook page.

After nearly 35 years of working for General Motors in Baltimore—first at its since-shuttered Baltimore Assembly plant on Broening Highway, and for the last 18 years at the company’s White Marsh facility—Guy White is hoping for a conversation with company brass about their decision to shutter the factory.

“Personally, what I have a hard time grasping is that the corporation has metrics that they measure their plants by, and our plant has the best attendance of any plant in North America—that’s Mexico, Canada, the United States,” says the shop chairman of United Auto Workers 239, which represents the company’s Maryland employees. “We have the best attendance. On all of our metrics, we’re a lean, efficient plant.”

Last month, GM announced its plan to “unallocate” funds from five of its North American plants—a workaround for “closed” or other synonyms, actions prohibited in the soon-to-expire UAW contract—shutting them down and eliminating 14,700 jobs in the process, to addressing falling auto sales and changing consumer demands. The company’s plant in White Marsh, which employs 310 workers, is part of those scheduled cuts, set to take effect in April.

Newly installed Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Jr. this week asked GM’s CEO and board chairperson, Mary Barra, to reconsider the move, citing the company’s and public investments into the facility and, as White noted, their strong performance and “very few grievances with GM management.”

He did so in partnership with UAW 239. White says getting GM to keep work in White Marsh is their “first preference.”

“They get what our priorities are,” White said of Olszewski’s administration. “They’re right in line with us.”

White added that while it was recently replaced County Executive Don Mohler’s administration that first extended help to affected employees—including with assistance finding new jobs, building their resumes, interview prep and informing them about unemployment resources—”it’s like they passed the baton one to the other without missing a beat” when Olszewski was sworn in this month.

As for GM, there’s some contempt from auto workers toward the company, particularly in light of its recent history. In an earlier email to Baltimore Fishbowl, days after the announced pending closure of the White Marsh facility, White noted that it was taxpayers who bailed the company out in 2008 after the company went bankrupt, costing the government more than $11 billion; that the CEO herself makes $23 million a year, “300 times what the average worker makes”; and that employees who had to relocate after the old Broening Highway factory shut down will need to do so again.

The 580,000-square-foot factory produces the A1000 Transmission used in Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pick-up trucks. The building is modernized, and equipped with solar panels on the roof that generate 10 percent of the facility’s electricity use, White says.

It also includes a $245 million addition, opened in 2013, dedicated to manufacturing electric motors. That project was made possible with more than $111 million in local, state and federal grants.

White acknowledged the Maryland plant suffers from how the company’s supply chain is set up, logistically. All of their suppliers are in South Carolina, and the parts are sent to GM’s central hub in Detroit, which then ships them out to the company’s facilities around the country. That brings an additional cost when sending goods to Maryland.

“I don’t understand all of it. I’m not a logistics professional. It’s kind of hard to comprehend,” White said. He added, “Maybe there’s something that we can figure out to offset that cost.”

But “it’s like they don’t even want to talk about it.”

Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to GM for comment on the logistical setup of its supply chain, as well as Olszewski’s invitation to Barra to come visit the factory.

In addition to the county executive, members of Maryland’s congressional delegation have asked that Barra reconsider the White Marsh closure. They argued in an earlier letter that the facility’s skilled workforce and modern equipment should be “repurposed to meet GM’s new business objectives,” including by making something other than transmissions and electric motors.

In a statement released to The Sun last week, the company’s CEO said she shared the lawmakers’ concerns about the impact it will have on the community here: “These were very difficult decisions—decisions I take very personally.” Barra also said “many hourly employees at the impacted U.S. plants will have the opportunity to work at other U.S. GM plants,” and that salaried workers “are being offered outplacement services to help them transition to new jobs.”

If the auto maker will not reconsider, Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, Jamie Raskin and John Sarbanes, as well as Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, asked that the company return the $115.5 million in public grants it received for updating its facility with a new addition several years ago.

In their earlier letter, the lawmakers called the plans “an extremely poor example of corporate citizenship.”

White agrees, and is perplexed by the lack of communication with the corporate office.

“Everything that they’ve asked of this plant, we’ve done,” he said. “It just boggles my mind that they’re walking away from a facility and a workforce like this.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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