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“Inhumane”: a laid-off GM worker in Ohio responds to massive job cuts

GM says that more than 14,000 auto workers will lose their jobs in the coming months.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

General Motors caused an uproar this week when it announced plans to close up to five factories in the US and Canada and cut more than 14,000 jobs over the next two years.

The automaker said that consumers weren’t buying enough cars like the Chevy Cruze, and that the overhaul would save the company $6 billion. GM also blamed President Donald Trump, whose tariffs on imported steel have cost the company $1 billion.

GM’s decision sparked a backlash from lawmakers in Canada and the United States. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called it “corporate greed at its worst,” pointing out that GM received millions in corporate tax cuts but failed to use the money to invest in its workers. Instead, the company recently announced plans to build its new Chevy Blazer in Mexico — a decision that frustrated US labor unions that want those jobs to go to American workers.

Trump was also reportedly furious about the decision. GM produces electric cars, and buyers in the US can get a federal tax break for purchasing one. So Trump threatened to cut those subsidies for GM vehicles (which he can’t do without Congress).

As lawmakers and company executives continue to point fingers and try to deflect the blame, I reached out to Nanette Senters, a 55-year-old woman who has spent the past two decades working at GM’s Lordstown plant in Warren, Ohio, where the Chevy Cruze is made.

Senters sobbed quietly on the phone as she told me how distressing the news has been for her and thousands of her co-workers who will lose their jobs. She is single but helps support her 84-year-old mother. She was also angry, she told me — at GM, at Trump, and at all the American companies outsourcing jobs abroad.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. (As of press time, GM had not responded to Vox’s request for comment.)

Alexia Fernández Campbell

How long have you been at the Lordstown factory, and what’s your job there?

Nanette Senters

I’ve been here 20 years. I’ve watched [the factory] shrink tremendously; I was here when the government saved us from failing [during the Great Recession].

I work in the body shop; it’s basically the metal assembly division. I assemble pieces and parts in the car doors. I work like a human robot every day, but none of us mind working hard. We have good benefits and pay.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Did you have any idea that layoffs were coming? How did you find out?

Nanette Senters

No. I was shocked. At 9:30 in the morning on Monday, we were all called into the break room, and they put on a video saying that the plant would be shuttered in March 2019.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Who was the person in the video?

Nanette Senters

I don’t know, some bigwig from GM.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Then what happened?

Nanette Senters

There was a loud gasp. People started crying. All day long, people were crying. Then we just started getting angrier and angrier. We’ve done so much for this company. This is such an inhumane way to treat people.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Who do you think is responsible for this? GM says there’s just not enough demand for the Chevy Cruze.

Nanette Senters

There’s a lot of blame to go around. I blame a lot of it on our president. I think it all started when Trump repealed the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard].

The CAFE standard meant that you could produce small cars that are energy-efficient and that would kind of balance out the building of big trucks and gas guzzlers. Building the Cruze meant that GM could also build many big trucks and still meet fuel efficiency standards.

When Trump repealed the CAFE standard, that gave GM more of an incentive to get rid of the Chevy Cruze and do this restructuring.

Then there’s his trade wars and his unfinished trade deals, which are hurting the entire country. Ford, Chrysler, Honeywell — they are all outsourcing good union jobs. The jobs being created are not good-paying jobs. They are $12-an-hour jobs.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

How much do you earn?

Nanette Senters

I make $30 an hour.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Did you hear anything about GM moving more jobs out of the country, or to the Cruze factory in Mexico?

Nanette Senters

We weren’t told anything. It’s all so sketchy. Then we were told that we might be able to transfer to another job, that there will be 3,000 new GM jobs. But that means 11,000 of us will be left out in the cold.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Trump has threatened to punish GM for closing the factory. Are workers hopeful something will change?

Nanette Senters

All of the president’s rhetoric has divided the workforce horribly. I was here when Trump had a rally here last summer. He said, don’t sell your house, do not worry about that. I am going to bring jobs back.

I didn’t believe him. From day one, I could see what he was — the way he managed to give people false hope. A lot of people are still hoping he will save them now. It’s disturbing.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What do you think of GM’s position: that the company needs to do this to remain financially viable?

Nanette Senters

I’m sure GM is probably just preparing itself for a potential recession. But they can do it more humanely.

To just say, “You’re done,” is wrong. Yes, a company is supposed to make money. But they did get all kinds of money from those tax cuts, and they are still doing this. I am so disappointed. They always take things out on workers.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Are you getting severance pay?

Nanette Senters

Yes, thank god for our union. We have a union guarantee of nine months of pay after March, and we can keep our health care. But it will be about 90 percent of our pay, and it cuts a lot of benefits. We won’t be getting bonuses or any profit sharing.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

What are you going to do after that?

Nanette Senters

I am going to try to transfer to another plant. If that doesn’t work out, I will go back to school. I am a single woman, and if I have to move to Indiana or something, it will be hard to take care of my 84-year-old mother.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

Can you find another job around Warren that pays $30 an hour?

Nanette Senters

No, not in this area. There are not good jobs here. It’s a very depressed area; this factory has the best jobs here. People talk about the steel mills in the area, but those only pay $12 an hour.

Alexia Fernández Campbell

I’ve heard that some GM workers are asking Trump to cancel government contracts with GM and other companies that outsource jobs. What do you think of that?

Nanette Senters

It’s a good idea, and we’ve sent him letters. But Trump is not willing to put his money where his mouth is. And so many of my co-workers, around half of them, are still pinning all their hopes on Trump. I hope I’m wrong. I hope he does do something about the thousands of jobs companies are still sending abroad. But he hasn’t done anything about Carrier, Honeywell, or Harley-Davidson.

Basically, since he’s been in office, it has been an assault on good-paying jobs. What he’s doing is not translating into anything good for middle-class America.