LORDSTOWN, Ohio—No one exemplifies the spirit of American manufacturing more than United Auto Workers Local 1112 President David Green.
Charismatic, humble and a relentless optimist, he is the everyman who guys like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel wrote ballads about in the 1980s.
But Green also has to face a triple whammy: shifting consumer taste, the callousness of big business and the manipulations of politicians—the same factors that have dogged American car manufacturing since the first assembly line started at Ford Motors in December 1913.
It’s a burden he doesn’t take lightly. And in 2019, it comes with the added pressure of the president of the United States publicly accusing him of failure.
“Democrat UAW Local 1112 President David Green ought to get his act together and produce,” President Trump tweeted March 17. “Stop complaining and get the job done!”
Green was driving home after a segment on Fox News when a union member called and told him about the tweet.
“I was a little taken back,” he chuckled.
But he decided not to respond, to set an example.
“If I’m the type of person that’s going to lash out and have a nasty reaction, then my kids are going to be that way,” he said.
It’s been three weeks since the last Chevy Cruze rolled off the plant here in Trumbull County after GM announced it was ending production of its compact car. The plant’s imminent closure comes less than 10 years after GM got $50.2 billion in government bailouts following the global economic collapse of 2008.
A loss of over 1,600 plant jobs and almost 3,000 jobs in the regional economy tells just part of the story. The total negative impact is estimated at $3 billion in economic output, according to a study by Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development.
It is a catastrophic event in an area that is still reeling from decades of economic devastation.
Green is one of the fewer than 200 remaining workers in the 6.2 million-square-foot plant making service parts like hoods, doors, and fenders for Cruze vehicles that are still on the road.
“We are making a stockpile of those spare parts,” he said. “They anticipate every week laying off what’s left of us little by little till just a handful are left to keep the lights on.”
Meanwhile, politicians eager to woo the American blue-collar worker are at his doorstep.
Two days after Trump issued his tweet, Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke sent Green a text.
Green’s first thought? “What’s a Beto?”
Later that day, O’Rourke met Green at the union hall and afterward called him “a true leader” at a rally in State College, Pennsylvania.
Green said Beto is “nice” and “down-to-earth” but that, like lots of people across the country, he’s tired of pandering politicians.
“Politicians, they pull on us from every direction,” Green said. “They pull, pull, pull, and all they want is our vote. I hate the negative. I want to see politicians who put up a plan. President Trump, I mean, I think his plan is to win the 24-hour news cycle, and I think he’s genius at it. I think he does a fantastic job at that.”
Recently, Trumbull County has liked whatever Trump has been saying to win the 24-hour news cycle. After voting for Barack Obama in 2012, it flipped an astonishing 30 percentage points to vote Trump in 2016.
Meanwhile, as Green sat in the union hall, Trump was just three hours away at a manufacturing center in Lima, Ohio, which got a huge boost this year in the defense budget, saving over 1,000 jobs.
During Trump’s visit, his mind was still on Lordstown.
“What’s going on with General Motors?” he asked the crowd. “Sell it to somebody” or reopen it, he said. “Get it open now. Don’t wait.”
A rumor rippled through the union hall that Trump might stop in Lordstown, but it never happened.
Green, though, is not deterred: “My sole mission is to get a new car allocated for Lordstown. That means keeping the workers and community engaged and a conversation continuing with GM.”
“And to remain optimistic,” he added. “This isn’t just about preserving jobs. People forget how proud we are of the product we made. When a Cruze drives past me on the street, I look at that and say, ‘We made that.'”
If the plant closes permanently after the last spare part is boxed up, Green, 49, plans to take a transfer and retire in five years.
But until then, he will fight on, battling the forces that have always tangled the American worker.
“There is still dignity and hard work in America,” Green said. “That’s what we stand for here. That is what we are fighting to hold on to. It is the most American thing we can do.”
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