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After layoff news, GM workers worry about their ‘next move’

In late November, General Motors announced it will be shutting down production at five of its North American factories. The move will mean the loss of thousands of jobs, both factory and white collar. How are employees at affected plants responding to the news? Yamiche Alcindor visits factories in Hamtramck, Michigan, and Lordstown, Ohio, to find out.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Workers at General Motors are facing an uncertain future this holiday season.

    The company announced it is stopping production at five factories. The move would cost some 14,000 jobs in North America.

    Yamiche Alcindor is back with reporting from Detroit and Lordstown, Ohio, two communities that depend on General Motors.

  • Peggy Jones:

    We just don't know for sure what's going to happen after June.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Peggy Jones has worked at General Motors for more than 20 years. The good pay and benefits support her and the five grandchildren she's raising.

  • Peggy Jones:

    It's kind of hard to think about what's going on and all.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But, in late November, GM announced plans to begin shuttering five plants in North America. They include Peggy's plant in Hamtramck, Michigan, which borders Detroit. A GM executive came to her plant to the announcement.

  • Peggy Jones:

    She told us, she said, the cars aren't selling, and we're going to be an unallocated plant. So, unallocated is supposed to mean we don't have any product in our plant. So, it didn't register at first.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Unless GM brings in a new car, for Hamtramck's 1,300 hourly employees, no product means no work.

  • Peggy Jones:

    No one came out and said, no, it's not closing.

    I'm sorry. I have been trying to stay strong for everybody at the plant, because they depend on me, but I'm a human being too.

  • D’Nitra Landon:

    I was angry, and then I was disappointed. And then I was, OK, what are you going to do? What's the next move?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    D'Nitra Landon works on the Hamtramck assembly line.

  • D’Nitra Landon:

    It brought me back to when I was homeless before. Yes, it brought some shadows and some memories back. I'm in survival mode again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    She and her family spent a year squatting in this house, until she got a job at General Motors. That was almost four years ago. Her income helped her to buy the home next door.

  • D’Nitra Landon:

    I have never made this much money hourly before in my life, never had these great health benefits before in my life.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    She thinks GM should have communicated better with its employees.

  • D’Nitra Landon:

    We didn't know. We found out after the fact. And that's not fair. We're not robots that you can push a button and say, OK, do this, now do that.

    You have to explain to us what's going on as much as you can. And that's all that anyone can ever ask for, is respect.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    GM is also idling a second plant in Michigan, plus ones in Ohio, Maryland and Canada. The company is cutting production of sedans, which haven't been selling as well as crossovers and trucks. GM says it is slashing costs to invest in future technology, like electric and self-driving cars.

    In a statement to "NewsHour," General Motors said — quote — "We are doing this while the company and economy are strong and to address current market conditions."

    Factory jobs aren't the only ones on the chopping block. The company plans to eliminate 15 percent of its salaried work force. That's about 8,000 white-collar jobs.

    Last week, General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers from states that will suffer because of the company's cuts.

  • Mary Barra:

    It's important for General Motors to make necessary, but incredibly difficult changes to make sure that we can be in a leadership position.

  • Patrick Anderson:

    The American consumer and taxpayer is not bailing out General Motors again. Everybody knows that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Patrick Anderson is the president of an auto industry consulting firm in East Lansing, Michigan.

  • Patrick Anderson:

    Every auto executive in Detroit remembers the '90s, the 2000s, the '80s, when car companies like General Motors built products even if they couldn't sell them, just to keep the plants running. That led, along with a bunch of other mistakes, to General Motors' bankruptcy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For decades, GM has been the engine that's powered Lordstown, Ohio, population 3,200. Last month's news struck the town like a bombshell: It will no longer be home to the Chevy Cruze in 2019.

    The GM plant used to work around the clock manufacturing the Cruze. But signs of trouble began almost two years ago, when the company started cutting hours and laying off workers.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tommy Wolikow and his fiancee, Rochelle Carlisle, met while working at the factory. They both lost their jobs on the same day in that first round of layoffs.

  • Rochelle Carlisle:

    When we walked out of there that night, it was like a surreal feeling. It was very, very quiet throughout the entire plant.

    And now it's two years later, and still no one knows what's going to happen. It's like we have just been left to — left out to dry.

  • Tommy Wolikow:

    I feel like it's kind of corporate greed, because GM's profiting more than they ever did in their history.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Rochelle has been supporting them and their daughters by working as a waitress. But, Friday, Tommy finally got a new job as a diesel technician.

    Here in 2016, President Trump turned Trumbull County, which includes Lordstown, from blue to red. He vowed to keep and even increase jobs in auto manufacturing towns like this one. But now some in Lordstown say those words ring hollow.

  • Donald Trump:

    Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don't sell your house. Don't sell your house. Do not sell it. We're going to get those values up. 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.

  • Tommy Wolikow:

    He said to the crowd, he said, don't sell your homes.

    Well, I bought a house two miles away from where I worked.

    He said, jobs are going to be pouring back in.

    I lost my job.

    It just kind of sounded like he was speaking to me.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At his new job, he's making $10 an hour less. He still hopes to work again at GM.

    The plant isn't just the heartbeat of Lordstown. It supports the entire surrounding Mahoning Valley.

  • Arno Hill:

    We're tough. We're going to persevere.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Lordstown's Mayor Arno Hill says small businesses around the factory are suffering, too, like Ross' Pub, the after-work watering hole just down the street from the plant.

  • Arno Hill:

    We're very small. And a lot of other businesses and other communities are hurting just like us, if not worse. For every GM job, it's said that seven jobs outside can be directly affected.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But he insists there's still hope that General Motors will remain in the area.

  • Arno Hill:

    They're not permanently shuttering it. So there's still hope that we may get another plant, and, hopefully, life goes on.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, in Detroit, employees like Peggy Jones are facing tough choices. They can apply for transfers based on seniority or wait for a new product that might never come.

  • Peggy Jones:

    I can't sit there and wait until the last minute and then don't have any opportunities and just get laid off. I can't do that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    D'Nitra Landon says the holidays won't be the same, with the threat of unemployment looming. But she's still trimming her tree, and hoping for the best.

  • D’Nitra Landon:

    I would never be homeless again, ever, not ever. And my children won't ever. You're taking a big chunk of what has kept me alive and brought me back to where I am. And now you're taking a big chunk of it away from me again. So, now I got to scratch and I got to crawl again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor in Detroit.

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