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The GM Layoffs Sure Look Like A Broken Trump Promise

Tommy Wolikow remembers the day he became a Donald Trump supporter.

He hadn’t previously paid attention to politics, but in July 2017 he went with his mom and aunt to a Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio, where the president essentially promised to save his job.

“Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house,” Trump said, to applause. “We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand-new ones. It’s going to happen.”

Earlier that year Wolikow had been laid off from the General Motors plant in Lordstown, where he’d worked since 2008. He had high hopes that the plant might once again ramp up production and call him back. The president bolstered those hopes.

“I believed what he said, and at that moment it turned me into a Trump supporter,” Wolikow said. “It made me feel that he wasn’t lying and he was being honest.”

On Monday, GM announced the plant would be “unallocated.” If the Lordstown jobs are coming back, it’s not happening soon.

The company has been dialing down production at the Lordstown plant since 2017 primarily because of weak demand for the Chevrolet Cruze manufactured there. Thanks in part to low gas prices, Americans have been buying more SUVs and crossovers (like the Honda CR-V) than smaller cars like the Cruze.

“In the past four years, GM has refocused capital and resources to support the growth of its crossovers, SUVs and trucks, adding shifts and investing $6.6 billion in U.S. plants that have created or maintained 17,600 jobs,” the company said Monday. It announced that two other plants, in Detroit and Ontario, Canada, would also be shut down. Several thousand factory workers are expected to lose their jobs.

Wolikow, 36, had hoped either that consumers would change their minds about the Cruze or that GM would repurpose the plant to make the Chevy Blazer. Instead, the company said this year it would make the Blazer in Mexico.

Trump said Monday that he was unhappy about the Lordstown plant stopping production, and that GM should use the factory for another car.

“They say the Chevy Cruze is not selling well. I say, ‘Well then, get a car that is selling well and put it back in,’” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “I have no doubt that in the not-too-distant future, they’ll put something else. They better put something else in.”

Trump campaigned on a promise of protecting American manufacturing workers from cheaper foreign labor, but so far his trade agenda has not stopped companies from making moves that are unfavorable to their U.S. employees.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who represents the area, said Trump should keep his word about jobs coming back to the Mahoning Valley.

“So far, President Trump has been asleep at the switch and owes this community an explanation,” Ryan said in a statement. “He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening.”

The United Auto Workers union said it would fight GM’s decision to close the plants. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes called the decision “profoundly damaging to our American workforce.”

By the end of this summer, Wolikow’s enthusiasm for Trump had faded, so much so that he attended counter-rallies organized by Good Jobs Nation, a union-backed worker advocacy group that has been calling attention to U.S. companies’ habit of offshoring American jobs. 

Wolikow said he’s got three kids, and that he and his fiancee, who works at a Cracker Barrel, are racking up credit card debt just to pay for basic living expenses. He said he’s applied for dozens of jobs with no luck, even though he’s gotten a trucking license and a diesel mechanic certification.

“It’s really hard to be a Trump supporter at a time like this,” he said.  

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