GM set to cease production at White Marsh plant, will slash 14,000 jobs in North America

After seven decades of operating in the Baltimore region, General Motors is poised to pull out of the state — possibly for good — next year.

The automaker that once employed thousands at its former Broening Highway plant in Baltimore announced Monday that it plans to cease production at its last Maryland outpost: a White Marsh transmission and electric motor plant that employs about 300 people.

The move is a small part of a massive restructuring of the 110-year-old company that includes shutting production at five North American plants and laying off up to 14,000 factory and white-collar workers. The company’s realignment to abandon several car models to focus on trucks and sport utility vehicles as well as self-driving and electric vehicles perplexed several leaders because the Philadelphia Road facility makes light truck transmissions and electric motors.

“This is wrong,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County Democrat who represents the area that includes the Philadelphia Road facility. “I can understand if it was an old factory, but this is a modern plant. It makes no sense to close it down.”

Workers on the morning shift were the first to be notified at around 9:30 a.m. Monday during an an all-hands meeting in the plant’s cafeteria — a process repeated with two later shifts. They were told operations would cease in April, a union official said.

GM opened the White Marsh plant in December 2000. Its operations are made up of two facilities — a 471,000-square-foot building and a 110,500-square-foot addition that has made electric motors. The latter operation was built in 2012 at a cost of more than $245 million, which was subsidized by $105 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, $6 million in grants from Baltimore county and $4.5 million in state grants for economic development.

In 2017, the plant accounted for more than $33.1 million in wages and paid about $7.3 million in income tax, according to GM’s website. The facility employs 253 hourly employees, many of whom are represented by the United Auto Workers Local 239, and 57 salaried workers.

As county executive in 1999, Ruppersberger’s administration convinced General Motors to build the modern factory just as the aging Broening Highway plant was closing and eliminating thousands of jobs. GM selected White Marsh over other U.S. locations and facilities in Mexico and Canada due to incentives, experienced employees, favorable union agreements and a location next to Interstate 95.

But the congressman was most upset that GM would make such a move after taxpayers saved GM from ruin during the financial crisis of 2008 with a $51 billion bailout. The U.S. Treasury Department’s investment ultimately cost the nation $11 billion once the government sold its stake in the company in 2013.

“The American people invested in General Motors and GM owes it to the American people to continue to invest in our workers and not move forward with this,” Ruppersberger said. “Now they’re going to have plants in Mexico and Canada? That makes me even madder.”

Union officials who helped negotiate new deals with the company to accommodate the heavily robotic electric motor facility also were upset to learn of the shutdown.

“It feels terrible,” said Don Burks, who retired from the plant in 2008 after a 40-year career that included negotiating to open the White Marsh facility. “To think that General Motors may not have a plant in this state anymore is very disheartening.”

Burks, a former UAW Local 239 chairman, said the facility was a “great place to work.”

“It feels like someone has ripped out a part of me telling that it’s going to close,” he said. “It’s a big impact on people’s lives.”

At a State House news conference Monday in Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan said he has yet to hear GM’s reason for planning to close the plant. But the Republican governor said the state would do what it could to forestall a shutdown.

“We’re absolutely on top of it,” Hogan said. “We’re going to fight to keep those 300 jobs.”

State economic development officials called the restructuring a corporate decision that the state had no opportunity to influence.

Julie Huston-Rough, a GM spokeswoman, said it is not accurate to say the plant is closing.

“They don’t have any product allocated,” Huston-Rough said. “There will be no product allocated at this point” to the facility.

The fate of the idled plant will be determined during negotiations next year with the United Auto Workers.

A Baltimore County official said a GM representative alerted county officials Monday morning by telephone about the company’s announcement. The representative told the county that the company “will not have a product for the plant as of the second quarter” of 2019, said a county spokeswoman, Fronda Cohen.

When the facility’s new addition opened in 2012, it was hailed as the first electric motor production facility operated by a major U.S. automaker.

A year later the company’s White Marsh operations made it the first automaker to manufacture electric-drive motors domestically. At the time, the company’s workers and robots were making motors for the plug-in electric Chevrolet Spark EV, which was discontinued last year.

The plant hasn’t made electric motors since the end of spring, said Guy White, the UAW’s shop chairman for the White Marsh facility.

County Executive Don Mohler said the county already was working to help GM workers begin to find new jobs.

“I don’t want to sugar coat this,” Mohler said. “This is not a good thing.”

Will Anderson, director of Baltimore County’s department of economic and workforce development, said his office has assigned three employees to aid GM workers transition into other jobs.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been here before,” Anderson said.

In 2009, the plant shut down for eight weeks after financially troubled General Motors temporarily shuttered 13 assembly plants to bring inventory levels into line with demand. During that period, the company filed for bankruptcy and announced it was permanently closing several plants and eliminating thousands of jobs. But the White Marsh facility was not one of those unlucky locations.

The facility’s luck appears to have run out Monday.

Kraig Martin, a co-owner of Ledo Pizza, said he was worried about the impact on his business, which has been located near the plant for 11 years.

“Anyone leaving the neighborhood is a big blow,” Martin said.

The head of United Auto Workers’ southern region, which includes Maryland and 11 other states, said the company’s moves were a “textbook example of corporate greed.”

“It is a shameful day when a corporation like GM, that already makes record profits, pulls the rug out from its workforce and communities,” said Mitchell Smith, Region 8 director. “All that is wrong about corporate America is what went into this decision.”

General Motors reported a third-quarter profit of $2.5 billion from revenue of nearly $36 billion. Sales were up 6.4 percent from the same period in 2017.

Bernard Swiekci, an assistant director at the Center for Automotive Research, said General Motors is clearly trying to be prepared for an economic downturn while its profitable operations can support product lines that promise future growth.

GM CEO Mary Barra’s comments on Monday confirmed that analysis.

“This industry is changing very rapidly,” Barra told reporters Monday in Detroit. “We want to make sure we’re well-positioned. We think it’s appropriate to do it while company is strong and the economy is strong.”

Most of the affected GM factories build cars that won’t be sold in the United States after next year, including the Volt and Chevy Cruze and Impala. The plants could close or they could get different vehicles to build depending on the outcome of next year’s union contract talks.

Plants without products assigned to them next year include assembly plants in Detroit; Lordstown, Ohio; and Oshawa, Ontario; and another transmission factory in Warren, Mich.

About 6,000 factory workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and Canada, although some could transfer to truck plants. The reduction includes 8,100 white-collar workers, some of whom will take buyouts and others who will be laid off.

Ruppersberger also blamed corporate “greed” as well as President Donald Trump’s trade policies. The congressman said he intends to ask Trump “to intervene” to prevent work from leaving the United States for Mexico or Canada.

“Our workers do not deserve this,” he said.

Trump told reporters Monday that he expressed his displeasure to GM CEO Barra.

Baltimore County Executive-elect John “Johnny O” Olszewski, Jr. called the GM decision “devastating.”

“Growing up in eastern Baltimore County, I saw firsthand how plant closings hurt workers, their families, and our neighborhoods,” Olszewski said. “Wall Street analysts may call this a good move by GM, but it’s devastating news for working men and women who were looking forward to the holiday season.”

White, who has worked for GM in Maryland since 1985, said a GM regional manager traveled to Baltimore on Monday to read a prepared statement over a microphone in the cafeteria to all three shifts. No questions were allowed.

“They read it and then told everybody that they realized this was a lot to take in but to concentrate on your job, be safe and get back to work,” he added.

Union officials are working on ways to help employees.

“Most people knew it was coming, but we were just surprised by the timing,” White said. “We all thought it would be further into 2019 than April.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Michael Dresser and Cody Boteler contributed to this article. The Associated Press contributed national reporting.

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