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Ohio lawmakers press GM CEO to shift work to plant targeted for closure

Ohio lawmakers press GM CEO to shift work to plant targeted for closure
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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ohio’s U.S. senators on Wednesday pressed General Motors Co <GM.N> Chief Executive Mary Barra to shift production from Mexico or build electric vehicles in a U.S. plant in their state that the automaker has said it intends to close.

Barra, speaking to reporters after the meeting on Capital Hill with Ohio’s two senators, said GM was working to have a plan for every worker and looking for other opportunities for those displaced. But she made no promises about saving the Lordstown, Ohio, plant.

The CEO said GM planned to add additional products at U.S. plants next year and that the automaker would have some jobs to fill at other Ohio facilities in 2019.

“It’s incredibly hard to make these kind of decisions,” Barra said. “We are trying to do the right thing because we think Ohio is a very important auto state.”

Senator Rob Portman said Barra had agreed to keep an open mind but made no promises about the future of the Lordstown plant, where the soon to be discontinued Chevrolet Cruze sedans are manufactured. Barra said the plant’s ultimate status will be determined during contract talks next year with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

“We’re not asking for charity.” Portman said, adding the members are asking for a new product for the plant to build.

GM has come under harsh criticism from lawmakers from both major political parties and from President Donald Trump since Nov. 26, when the No. 1 U.S. automaker announced the biggest restructuring since its bankruptcy a decade ago. It said it plans to close five North American assembly plants and cut nearly 15,000 jobs. [nL2N1Y10G5]

Portman said he spoke to fellow-Republican Trump on Wednesday about GM.

Barra arrived in Washington for meetings with angry lawmakers, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, and members of Congress from Ohio and Maryland on Wednesday. She was also expected to meet with lawmakers from Michigan on Thursday, among other meetings.

Barra defended the cuts as necessary to ensure the company’s long-term financial health. She said a “strong General Motors” is the best way to ensure the company’s long-term success.

Trump told GM last week that the company “better” find a new vehicle to build at the plant in Ohio, which could be crucial to his re-election chances in 2020.

After GM announced its plans, Trump threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation. Administration officials later said they wanted to end subsidies for electric cars in 2020 or 2021, affecting GM and other automakers. [nL2N1Y21HA] [nL1N1Y81JX]

Trump also said new auto tariffs were being studied, asserting, without evidence, that they could prevent job cuts such as those planned by GM. [nL2N1Y30WG]

The UAW has objected to GM’s plan to end production in 2019 at four U.S. plants, saying it violates commitments made during contract talks in 2015. The union has asked GM to rescind the decision and resolve the fate of the plants in talks for a new labor contract next year. [nL1N1Y81OQ]

Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s other senator and a Democrat, said Barra will speak with the union about accelerating decisions on where the company locates plants.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

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