Michigan leaders give Obama deputy an earful over GM plans
Cabinet members are touring auto country to offer the administration's support. Michigan stands to be hit hardest by GM's bankruptcy plans.
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“We are going to be a manufacturing state, and job training is crucial,” says Mr. Levin.Skip to next paragraph
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But even with these forward-looking efforts, there is still anger about the past. The decision to close a transmission plant in Ypsilanti means GM will manufacture its transmissions in just two North American cities: Toledo, Ohio, and Silao, Mexico.
It’s the second location that frustrates people here. Don Skidmore, president of the United Auto Workers Local 735, implored Solis, saying the Obama administration “somehow has to stop bleeding US jobs to foreign countries.”
Retraining and the potential for new, environmental jobs are important, he said, but secondary to the greater problem of fair trade.
Solis visited the Ypsilanti plant Tuesday and stressed that her department will be examining existing trade agreements in addition to pursuing money for unemployment and career-training programs.
The portrait Ypsilanti leaders painted for Solis was dire. In March, unemployment here reached 8.8 percent, an increase from 5.6 percent a year ago.
“It’s like a tsunami,” says Brenda Stumbo, supervisor of Ypsilanti Township. “We need help.”
She says 4.4 percent of the town’s tax revenue came from GM. For broader Washtenaw County, GM generated $1.5 million in taxes in 2008.
Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan says he will ask GM leaders “useful questions” – such as why the Ypsilanti plant was chosen despite producing transmissions that are each $145 cheaper than those produced at competing facilities.
“It appears that they closed the wrong plant at GM,” he says.
Union leader Skidmore appreciates the support. “I feel good,” he says. “Everyone seems to have our back. Whether it means we can save our place [is not certain]. But we will continue the fight.”
After the panel discussion, he sought out Solis to shake her hand and thank her for coming: If anything, he says, “Michiganders are polite.” But outside, he questions whether she can make a difference in revitalizing manufacturing in his state.
“I hope it wasn’t just grandstanding and backslapping,” he says. “I loved my job. I felt I had a purpose. Now, I’m just retired and doing housework.