By Mark Gillispie and Tom Krisher
The last compact car rolled off the line Wednesday at General Motors’ massive assembly plant in Ohio as the automaker began moving toward its future while workers wondered about theirs.
GM is eliminating all 1,700 hourly positions, perhaps for good, at the factory near Youngstown, the first of five North American auto plants that it intends to shut down by early next year.
The plant closings are part of a major restructuring for GM, which plans to shed as many as 14,000 workers and shift its focus to making trucks, SUVs and electric and autonomous vehicles.
Most of the jobs being slashed companywide are white-collar positions. But there’s still uncertainty about the fate of the plants because the closings still must be negotiated with the United Auto Workers later this summer.
There was a somber mood inside the plant, where more than 50 years of car manufacturing came to an end.
Workers took photos of the last Chevrolet Cruze, a car made in Lordstown since 2011 that has become a victim of consumer tastes in an era of inexpensive gasoline. It still will be made in Mexico for markets outside the U.S. The Cruze was the only vehicle made at the plant and will no longer be sold in the U.S. for now.
Signs with sayings such as “Save this Plant” were scattered outside the plant where about 100 workers gathered to say goodbye in the cold.
“It’s frustrating,” said Jeff Nance, who has worked at Lordstown for 17 years. “I’m angry and bitter. Watching that last car go by was a kick in the gut.”
Like many workers, Shaun Winkler said he’s still considering whether to transfer to another GM plant where there are openings.
“It started out as a normal day, but when that last car came into our area, and there was nothing but empty racks behind it, then it got sad,” he said.
UAW 1112 President Dave Green said he took an emotional walk around the factory floor during the final shift.
“It’s gut-wrenching. People were crying, they’re frustrated and they feel like they’ve done everything right,” Green said.
The UAW claimed in a recent federal lawsuit that its existing contract prohibits GM from idling plants.
Green has urged workers to remain hopeful, saying their fate will ultimately be decided at the bargaining table. The UAW’s national contract with GM expires in mid-September.
President Donald Trump and a coalition of Ohio lawmakers have been pressuring the automaker to find a way to bring new work to the plant, which employed 4,500 people just two years ago but has been down to one shift since last summer.
Trump has shown a particular interest in the Lordstown plant, singling it out as one he wants to stay open. It’s in area of the state that will be important to him in the 2020 election, and it’s where he told supporters at a rally last year that manufacturing jobs are coming back.
Company President Mark Reuss said in January that GM is looking at a lot of different options for the plant, but it hasn’t decided whether Lordstown could get a new vehicle.
GM can’t operate a plant with a slow-selling vehicle like the Cruze, and have enough money to invest in the future, he said. It also doesn’t want to get caught like it did in 2008 with too many factories and workers, a problem that helped push the company into bankruptcy protection.
“We’ve got some history of that, to be honest,” Reuss said. “We don’t want that history to repeat.”
Lordstown’s history dates back to 1966. More than 16 million vehicles have come off its assembly line since then, including nearly 1.9 million Cruzes.
The automaker has said most of its blue-collar workers whose jobs are eliminated in the U.S. will be able to transfer to plants in the Midwest and South.
The other plants slated to close this year are assembly plants in Detroit and Oshawa, Ontario, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.
Tom Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed.