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O’Rourke appears with GM union leader maligned by Trump, pledging help carrying message

President Trump waves as he and first lady Melania Trump leave St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington on March 17. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters). (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Monday showed up at a union hall in a beleaguered Ohio town to defend the local union’s leader against criticism from President Trump after General Motors shuttered a factory here earlier this month.

O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, said he was proud of the way David Green, president of UAW Local 1112 in Lordstown, Ohio, handled the attacks from Trump.

“I just want to tell you that so many of us around the country, although you might have been lit up a little bit by the president, are so proud of the way you conducted yourself,” O’Rourke said in an appearance broadcast on Facebook Live.

“We just wanted to come and say thank you … and make sure we help to carry this message you have started here and do everything we can to be helpful,” said O’Rourke.

Trump blamed the small-town union leader Sunday for not doing enough to save a General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that shuttered on March 6, causing about 5,400 job losses in a struggling part of the country.

“Democrat UAW Local 1112 President David Green ought to get his act together and produce. G.M. let our Country down, but other much better car companies are coming into the U.S. in droves,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “I want action on Lordstown fast. Stop complaining and get the job done! 3.8 percent Unemployment!”

The president is traveling to Ohio later this week but isn’t scheduled to stop in Lordstown. Instead, he’ll do a tour of a factory in Lima and a pricey fundraiser dinner in Canton, about an hour away from Lordstown. O’Rourke wanted to draw a contrast with Trump’s tweets.

Standing with O’Rourke, Green said he was working in the interests of working people, rebuffing the president’s criticism.

“Yeah, the president called me a Democrat. I’m a registered Democrat. You know, but I look at policies, and I look at how people vote on working issues, and how they treat working people. That’s the backbone of our country,” said Green with a giant American flag behind him.

Trump’s tweet Sunday came minutes after a segment on Fox News Channel suggested that Trump might have trouble with his reelection campaign in the Rust Belt. Fox News played clips from a Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio — very close to Lordstown — where the president told the crowd in July 2017, “don’t sell your house” because the jobs are “all coming back.”

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted again about the GM plant in Ohio, demanding that it be “opened or sold to a company who will open it up fast!” The president plans to visit Ohio Wednesday, stopping at a tank factory in Lima and then attending a pricey fundraiser in Canton, an hour from Lordstown.

Trump has used this tactic of lashing out at a local union leader before when blue-collar jobs that he promised to save ended up going away. Trump went after a steel union president in Indianapolis when the Carrier plant there went forward with job cuts after Trump tried to intervene unsuccessfully.

Appearing on Fox, Green said Trump’s tweet Saturday — days after the plant shut down — “GM MUST ACT QUICKLY” was doing little to help.

After more than 50 years in Lordstown, Ohio, the General Motors assembly plant, which employs 1,500 people, is expected to close by 2019. (Video: Drea Cornejo, Nick Childers/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)

“The fact that we’ve seen our Kmart distribution center in Warren close, a hospital close out here, all these brick and mortar businesses are closing and now unallocated status at [GM] Lordstown . . . people are starting to wake up [about Trump],” Green said.

Green sent Trump two letters in the past year begging him to help stop the plant closure and never heard back. Trumbull County, where Lordstown is located, voted for Trump in 2016 after voting Democratic in every election since the 1970s.

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“The president was saying don’t sell your house because all of these factories are coming back and we’re going to protect American jobs. We’ve seen everything but that here,” Green said in a recent interview.

It’s unclear whether the GM Lordstown plant is closed for good. The ultimate fate of the plant will be decided when the United Auto Workers and GM negotiate a new union contract this fall, but for now, thousands of workers at the plant and surrounding businesses are out of jobs that often paid $30 an hour with benefits.

The GM Lordstown plant made the Chevy Cruze, a small sedan that sold well after the Great Recession and when gas prices were high but has had weaker sales in recent years. GM has cast the Lordstown plant closure as a business decision because it no longer wants to make small cars in the United States, but on Sunday, Trump made it sound as though GM was blaming the UAW.

“Just spoke to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors about the Lordstown Ohio plant. I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING. I asked her to sell it or do something quickly. She blamed the UAW Union — I don’t care, I just want it open!” Trump tweeted Sunday evening, several hours after attacking Green.

GM wouldn’t comment directly on the conversation between Barra and the president, but the company put out a statement saying the plant’s future “would be resolved between GM and the UAW.” Selling the plant to another owner probably would mean union workers would lose their seniority and not be paid as well as they had been.

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For union workers in Lordstown, it’s hard to hear accusations that they didn’t do enough to keep the plant open. The Lordstown plant workers agreed in 2007 to pay new hires lower wages — about $20 an hour instead of $30.

Green was part of those intense negotiations and has a Wall Street Journal article from the time framed on his office wall, a reminder of what union workers sacrificed in GM’s dark days to help the company. The state of Ohio also kicked in millions to help retrofit the GM Lordstown plant as part of that deal.

“GM is a big bully,” Green said in a recent interview. “My guess is GM is just trying to come after the union at the bargaining table and this is just a ploy to squeeze more out of workers again."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) jumped to Green’s defense Sunday, tweeting that Green and other union workers in Lordstown have shown “grit and determination in the face of adversity” and that it’s time Trump “stood up to GM and joined the fight.”

Like Green, Brown told The Washington Post in a recent interview that he had tried to contact Trump numerous times in an effort to save the Lordstown jobs but never heard back.

Trump has done “zero” to help, Brown said. “I’ve ask him about it. I’ve talked to him on the phone about it. When the second shift was laid off, he didn’t even know the first or second shift had been laid off.”

Trump did speak with Barra late last year after GM announced it would lay off about 15,000 workers, but the cuts still went forward.

The unemployment rate in Trumbull County is 7.7 percent, more than double the national rate, making these latest job losses hard to endure. Signs saying “Save the GM plant” and “Drive It Home: Support GM Lordstown” are everywhere in northeast Ohio, part of a campaign Green started several months ago to attract attention to the town’s plight.

Although Trump has touted strong growth in manufacturing jobs — last year the United States added the most manufacturing jobs since 1997 — parts of the country such as the Youngstown area have continued to shed blue-collar jobs.

The laid off GM workers face a choice: Get another job in the area that usually pays less, move to another state to work in a different GM factory or retrain for another career. About 700 of the Lordstown workers have transferred out of state, according to the company and the UAW.

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