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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker visits picket line at GM plant in White Marsh

Sen. Cory Booker joined a picket line of auto workers and condemning General Motors for shutting down its White Marsh plant after the automaker accepted millions of dollars in government subsidies there.
Sen. Cory Booker joined a picket line of auto workers and condemning General Motors for shutting down its White Marsh plant after the automaker accepted millions of dollars in government subsidies there. (Tim Prudente)

Sen. Cory Booker brought his bid for the presidency to White Marsh Saturday, joining a picket line of auto workers and condemning General Motors for shutting down its local plant after the automaker accepted millions of dollars in government subsidies there.

“They took tens and tens of millions of dollars,” the New Jersey Democrat told a small crowd. “For them to shut down just seems to me, on the face of it, unacceptable.”

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General Motors shut down the plant in May, displacing nearly 300 workers and bringing an end to its seven decades of manufacturing in the Baltimore area. Workers there built heavy-duty truck transmissions — the sorts used in the popular Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra — as well as electric motors. The electric-motors operation was built in 2012 after the U.S. Department of Energy gave GM $105 million, Baltimore County gave $6 million, and the state doled out $4.5 million for the White Marsh plant.

Seven years later, GM announced it was shutting down the plant. Today, only about seven people are left to maintain the equipment, said Guy White, a machine repair technician and one of those left.

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“The only reason we’re here is so they can say the building isn’t closed,” White said.

The plant peaked in the early 2000s with more than 400 workers, White said. Even in the final days, they were still producing 3,400 transmissions a week, he says with pride.

“We have experience in electric motors. We have experience in transmissions. This is a good-sized building. Why can’t they make something here?” he said. “I don’t care what we build. Scooters? Bicycles? Just give us something to build.”

White and local members of the United Auto Workers began picketing this month at the shuttered plant. Union leaders have called on their 49,000 GM employees across the country to strike after their contract expired two weeks ago. The automaker and union failed to agree on increasing wages and reopening idled plants, such as the one in the White Marsh.

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Booker, the grandson of a union autoworker, posed for photos with the picketers, hoisted a “UAW” sign, and led them in a chant. “The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

He told them corporate greed was eroding the American dream of working hard and achieving a middle class life.

“Corporate profits are going up; wages are staying stagnant,” he told them. “We have to make sure that there are fair contract negotiations.”

A crowd of about 30 people gathered and listened. White said he was grateful for the candidate’s support.

“This plant tends to be forgotten,” White said. “We’re a small plant and it just seems like we’re overlooked a lot. And we have a story to tell.”

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