Coalition takes fight to save GM Lordstown plant to statehouse

Ernie Long of Howland and member of United Auto Workers Local 1112, right, was among a large local contingent who traveled Wednesday to Columbus to solidify support for the Drive It Home Ohio campaign, the effort to convince General Motors to assign a new vehicle to the automakers plant in Lordstown. Continuing left are Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer for the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber; state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta; Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill; Warren Mayor Doug Franklin; UAW Local 1112 President Dave Green; state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem; state Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown; and Joe Martin of Austintown, who also belongs to UAW Local 1112. In the far left back is Genna Petrolla, economic development program manager with Eastgate. (Special to the Salem News/ Ron Selak Jr.)

COLUMBUS — The coalition trying to save the General Motors plant in Lordstown “Drive It Home Ohio” did as the name implies Wednesday with state lawmakers.

A series of whirlwind meetings with lawmakers and other high-level state officials was done to solidify support for the plant ä which is one of five in North America the automaker plans to idle in March ä and for the effort that’s also about convincing GM to assign a new vehicle to facility.

A group of about 15 local elected and economic development officials, social service and education officials, and plant workers took a bus to the capitol to spread the message. Others who are part of the coalition met them at the statehouse.

Terry Armstrong, superintendent of Lordstown Local School District, felt it was important enough to be part of the group. He drove himself Wednesday.

“I think it’s important our state legislators know the schools will be highly impacted,” said Armstrong. “Not just Lordstown, but everybody, and I know the impact it is going to have for us. I know all schools in our area will be impacted.”

Armstrong estimates about 15 percent of students in the district have a parent either employed at the plant or a feeder plant like Lordstown Seating Systems, which makes the seats for the Chevrolet Cruze.

“GM is in our town. We probably don’t have the most number of people because we are such a small district, but we have a large percentage of our kids whose parents work there,” said Armstrong. “It’s a big impact to our kids, not just for academics, but also social and emotional to go through this.”

The meetings included Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted; the chiefs of staff for Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican, and House Speaker, Republican Larry Householder; and Democrat Emilia Sykes, House Minority leader.

None lasted longer than 20 minutes.

The “aggressive approach” was by design, said Nick Santucci, director of government and public affairs for the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber.

“We wanted to go in and say what we needed to say,” Santucci said. “They crunched us in with little availability in an effort to show support for the Drive It Home campaign.”

Sykes, D-Akron, pledged hers and the caucus’ support for the campaign.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work with all of you and make sure we do what we can to rectify the situation and convince GM to bring another product to the plant,” said Sykes. “I know Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley area are going to be negatively impacted if there is not. My community in Akron will be impacted as well, maybe not as greatly, but certainly we will feel a ripple effect go down 76 east right into Akron and 77 south to Canton.”

State Rep. Glenn Holmes and co-sponsors, Michael J. O’Brien and Michele Lepore-Hagan, are hopeful lawmakers will address Holmes’ legislation that will allocate more resources in cases of mass layoffs soon.

“We look forward to pushing this moving forward to help mitigate the consequences of the pending layoffs,” said Holmes, D-Girard.

“This is not GM specific, but it is GM specific,” said O’Brien, D-Warren.

The group was presented a resolution of support by Ohio Sens. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, and Michael Rulli, R-Salem.

It’s the second time Drive It Home Ohio went on the road to advocate for the plant.

A contingent in January drove to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show to show solidarity behind the plant and for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s efforts to convince GM to assign a new vehicle to the plant. DeWine met with GM CEO Mary Barra on Jan. 17 at the automaker’s headquarters in Detroit.

United Auto Worker Local 1112 member Joe Martin of Austintown was on that trip. He made the one to Columbus on Wednesday as well.

“I think you constantly have to have a presence out there,” said Martin, who works the overnight shift and came straight from work. “It’s important and every one of these I’m going to come to. You have to keep showing GM you want another vehicle.”

Ernie Long of Howland and Jim Cecere of Poland also rode the bus to Columbus.

“They are supporting us, we should be down here supporting them,” said Long. “We all need to be fighting together.”