New hires, not layoffs: Fuel standards create Ohio jobs

Cars

By Roger Kerson

“We’re hiring people, not laying them off,” said Dave Green, President of UAW Local 1714. “And it’s because of the CAFE standards.  We’ve pushed and supported higher fuel economy, now it’s helping the environment. And it’s also putting people back to work, that’s the big story… government regulation isn’t all bad.”

Green, whose local represents workers building the Chevy Cruze at GM’s Lordstown, Ohio facility, spoke during a panel discussion in Washington DC on April 16 at the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference.”  The Lordstown plant produces the high-mileage Chevy Cruze, featuring fuel-saving technology used by GM to make progress towards new 54.5 mpg federal fuel economy standards.

“This is a car people get excited about,” said Rob McCullough of the Blue Green Alliance. “It’s high performance and high fuel efficiency.” The environmental benefit and job growth associated with the Cruze was one of the success stories highlighted during the annual gathering of several thousand union members and environmental activists, coordinated by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation.  The event focuses on the job-creating potential of green technologies in manufacturing, solar and wind power generation, transportation and other industries.

Lordstown almost liquidated:  His plant, Green explained, almost didn’t survive GM’s near-death experience in 2009. “When we went into bankruptcy, there were literally helicopters flying over our plant,” he recalled, sent by investors to assess the value of our property. “They were going to liquidate our stuff, that’s a fact. Now, it’s a huge success story.”

The plant has been re-tooled to produce the Cruze, which reaches 42 mpg in EPA highway ratings when equipped with a standard gas engine. GM has just introduced a diesel version which hits 46 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle currently for sale in the U.S.

More than 350 supplier firms contribute parts to the Chevy Cruze, creating jobs and economic opportunities in Ohio and elsewhere. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who represents Toledo, Sandusky, Lorain and other Lake Erie communities in Congress, said the Cruze is “truly an Ohio car” pointing to  “…[e]ngine blocks cast in Defiance, the transmissions in Toledo, the assembly in Lordstown.”

GM Hydramatic, the company’s giant transmission facility in Toledo, said Kaptur, has seen “literally hundreds of millions of dollars in investment,” to build transmissions for the Cruze, as well as fuel-saving eight-speed transmission for other vehicles. It’s a sharp turnaround, said the congresswoman: “There was a moment when people thought that facility would shutter, they were down to almost nothing.”

Hiring Ohio steelworkers:  Last year in 2012 we hired 187 people,” said Dan Boone, Vice President of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 979, representing more than 1,400 people at an ArcelorMittal steel plant in downtown Cleveland.  Along with a USW steel plant in Northwest Indiana, said Boone, “We make six different parts for the Chevy Cruze, including steel wheels, the undercarriage and inner quarter panels.”

Like other steelmakers, ArcelorMittal is investing in new technology and equipment – and hiring workers – to make lighter materials that can help GM and other automakers reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency. “Because of the fuel economy standards, we’re required to make lighter-weight steel,” said Boone. “This year, so far we’ve had 49 people hired, next Monday we’ll hire another 22 people, and another 22 people two Mondays after that… based on the advanced, high-strength steel.”

James Winship, president of IUE-CWA Local 755 in Dayton, Ohio, stressed how the local and regional economy benefits when consumers spend their vehicle dollars on vehicles that are produced, assembled and supplied in nearby communities. “When we’re buying things that we make, it puts our people back to work,” he said.  IUE-CWA Local 755 represents workers at Tenneco, a parts supplier that provides shocks and struts for the Chevy Cruze, as well as other vehicles.

Winship also described how shop-floor initiatives by Local 755 members in another Ohio automotive facility –the GM-Isuzu D-MAX engine plant in Dayton – helped the plant become a 100% landfill-free operation. Other panelists described efforts to save money and reduce energy use by installing motion detectors, using more efficient lighting, cutting back on the use of compressed air, and lowering overall plant emissions.

“We’re in downtown Cleveland,” said the Steelworkers’ Dan Boone, “so we have to be especially environmentally conscious. Since the mid-1980s, we’ve spent over $1 billion to make sure we don’t put our neighbors to sleep with anything environmentally unsafe.”

“Right here, we can make a difference,” said James Winship. “My daughter’s 9th birthday was yesterday; her future is what drives the things I do. I want her to be able to grow up in a clean world. I want her to be able to play in the grass and use the water without worrying about contamination.”

Speaking at plenary session later in the conference, Michael Robinson, GM’s Vice President for Sustainability and Global Affairs, described the company’s decision to produce electric motors at its plant in White Marsh, Maryland, outside of Baltimore.

“We decided to make our own electric motors to support battery-electric vehicles and control systems,” said Robinson. “We’re not going to buy them offshore – that would be cheaper initially, but not in the long run. Not only can we develop the motors better, but we develop the know-how, which becomes a core competency for our workers and engineers.”

Roger Kerson is a Michigan-based media consultant for labor unions and environmental organizations.