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Senator: GM strike is an opportunity for shuttered Lordstown plant

As tens of thousands of workers across the country strike against General Motors (GM), Republican Sen. Rob Portman sees an opportunity for displaced Ohio autoworkers.

“This is an opportunity for us to get some leverage to get GM to the bargaining table and to come up with a resolution to the strike that includes providing for employment at the Youngstown-area plant,” Portman said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “It's time to give the workers at that plant and the community the opportunity to show what they can do.”

GM stopped producing the Chevy Cruze at the Lordstown plant in March, putting thousands of employees out of work. Portman said he doesn’t know the exact details of the negotiations between UAW and GM, but he hopes the two sides can agree to reopen the Lordstown facility.

“The community is all in. The state is all in. The federal government wants to help. No one wants this plant to shut down,” said Portman. “It’s a facility that’s still got all the equipment there. So I hope that this negotiation will lead to a resolution soon and part of that resolution will be, let's keep Lordstown open,” said Portman.

Portman and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown have been pressuring GM to produce an electric vehicle in the plant.

“I understand that the car being produced there is no longer popular...but instead of shutting down the plant they should provide that plant with some of the new business that they have,” Portman said. “They say they're going to have 20 new electric car models, as an example in the next several years. Put one of those in Lordstown.”

This week Brown spoke in support of the autoworkers on the Senate floor, and continued to call on GM to reopen the plant.

“GM made the decision to close Lordstown and other plants around the country with no input from workers. The workers who earned those profits for that company. Now workers are standing up and fighting for increased investments in their local communities,” Brown said.

The shuttered facility has been the subject of national attention, with President Trump weighing in on multiple occasions. Earlier this month, he met with GM CEO Mary Barra at the White House.

Auto workers from the General Motors Lordstown assembly plant stop to be photographed while protesting GM plant closings outside General Motors World Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

In May, President Trump tweeted that GM planned to sell the plant to a company called Workhorse, which he said would build electric trucks in the facility.

Months later, the founder of Workhorse aims to take over the plant with a new company, called Lordstown Motors Corp, but Portman told Yahoo Finance he’s skeptical about the plan.

“It’s a new company — it’s actually not Workhorse,” said Portman. “He's an inventor. He's an interesting guy. He has a lot of great ideas — and he has virtually no capital and General Motors has refused to put capital into the business, as of this point, which I think is an indicator that they don't have confidence in it either.”

Portman said he’d be more confident if GM would invest in the new company, or give it contracts to produce vehicles.

Portman said he wouldn’t dismiss the idea of a new company moving into the plant – if it were “properly financed,” adding, “I am skeptical, I'll be honest with you, about this one because I just don't see how you have a startup with no capital,” he added.

Workhorse said it is in a quiet period and could not comment.

GM did not immediately respond to Yahoo Finance’s request for comment.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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