DETROIT — As dozens of UAW members from Lordstown, Ohio, protested outside, the union's president on Tuesday called on General Motors to keep open U.S. plants it has unallocated as part of a sweeping cost-cutting plan.
Gary Jones, speaking at the handshake ceremony to open what are expected to be contentious contract negotiations, argued that GM owes the union a commitment to invest in its U.S. manufacturing footprint.
"We invested in you; now it's your turn to invest in us," Jones said. "We will leave no stone unturned to protect our brothers and sisters at the locations put on the block. We call on GM to keep these plants open and allocate more products on American soil. It can be done."
Later Tuesday, the UAW kicked off bargaining with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jones repeated his call for the Detroit 3 to stop gutting benefits, hiring more temporary workers and shifting more jobs to Mexico and China.
FCA, in contrast with GM, has committed to adding thousands of jobs in the coming years. It plans to invest $4.5 billion in southeastern Michigan to prepare for the next wave of Jeep vehicles and turn a closed engine plant in Detroit into a new Jeep assembly plant. Mark Stewart, the COO of FCA North America, touted the 6,400 jobs the company says the investment will create.
“We've got to continue to make the right strategic decisions together to enable profitable growth,” Stewart said, “so we can continue to invest right here in the U.S."
GM in November said it would not allocate products to Lordstown Assembly, Oshawa Assembly in Ontario, Canada, and Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Michigan. Powertrain plants in Maryland and Michigan also have not been given new products. The move put the fates of roughly 6,700 hourly and salaried factory employees — 3,800 in the U.S. and 2,900 in Canada — in jeopardy.
Walt Ball, a 25-year veteran at Lordstown, made the trek to Detroit with roughly 50 other members of UAW Local 1112 to support the union.
He said he was optimistic that Lordstown could get a new vehicle to build, even as GM explores the possibility of selling the plant to an electric vehicle company.
"We need to support American jobs," Ball said. "We're tired of labor being devalued around this country. We've been flexible through the bankruptcy and allowed things to happen to keep this company going."
Jones noted that, while GM has been the most profitable of the Detroit 3 since the last round of negotiations, it now employs the fewest UAW hourly employees of the three companies.
Jones repeated lines from his speech Monday to open negotiations with Ford, saying the union would stop a "race to the bottom" for U.S. autoworkers.
GM CEO Mary Barra focused her remarks Tuesday on the fact that GM has invested $23 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations over the last 10 years and said the company has accounted for 26 percent of all U.S. automaker investment since 2010.
She said the two sides must "build a strong future and lead the transformation of an industry" that is undergoing rapid change.
"The opportunity for whoever gets it right is absolutely huge," she said. "Having us all aligned is critical to achieving that success. Our collective future is at stake. We cannot move forward without each other."