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Loss Of Manufacturing Jobs Spells Trouble For Trumbull County

Lisa DeJong
Your Voice Ohio
Rochelle Carlisle with her daughter, Bella. Carlisle was among the workers who were laid off by the local GM plant.

The collapse of traditional manufacturing has hit Trumbull County as hard as any place in Ohio. Drastic cuts at the General Motors plant in Lordstown have many trying to figure out if the economic pummeling will continue, and if there are alternatives.

Manufacturing’s stunning decline is seared into the DNA of Trumbull and Mahoning counties: It began with Black Monday, the single day in 1977 that cost 5,000 steelworkers their jobs.

An analysis by Your Voice Ohio shows the losses have continued into the 21st century. Since 2000, Trumbull has lost nearly 40 percent of its total payroll – a whopping $1.7 billion. Two-thirds of manufacturing jobs are gone. 

So people here are watching warily as the GM plant in Lordstown has dwindled from three shifts to one – people like Tommy Wolikow and Rochelle Carlisle. For them, the sprawling complex GM built 50 years ago represented security; it was worlds removed from the rusted shells of steel mills in Youngstown and Warren.

Carlisle remembers when she was hired. Sure, it meant temporary status for as much as five years, but the close-to-$20 an hour was nearly twice what she made as a pharmacy tech

“I thought this is going to be a job where I’m going to be able to put money aside for my daughter’s education, for her first car," Carlisle said. "I’ll be able to live a regular life. I won’t have to struggle to live paycheck to paycheck to paycheck.”

Wolikow and Carlisle met at the plant, got engaged and bought a split level just 2 miles away, with a treed yard, good schools, a safe neighborhood for their blended family of five, including now 9-month-old baby Bella.

Credit Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio
Workers put the final touches on the Cruze cars at the GM Lordstown Complex on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018.

It seemed like a good bet. Over the decades, Lordstown had its cutbacks, strikes and shutdowns. But it came barreling out of the Great Recession with a new labor contract, a $350 million retooling and the launch of the Chevy Cruze. So even when 1,500 third-shifters, Wolikow and Carlisle, were laid off in January 2017, they weren’t terribly worried.

"I remember us walking out that last night together," Wolikow said. "I figured I was going to get called back maybe six months to a year at the latest.” 

It’s coming up on two years now. Then, in June, the second shift was cut, too.

The problem is that sales of the Cruze plummeted. It’s a highly rated, fuel-efficient sedan in a day when consumers, buoyed by low gas prices, want SUVs.

GM hasn’t provided specifics about plans for Lordstown. Spokesperson Tom Mock notes that Chevy invested another $200 million to retool Lordstown for the second-generation Cruze. He says it remains committed to compact cars and pledges that Lordstown will continue to operate.

But the cuts have cost the village of Lordstown more than $1 million in taxes. Schools superintendent Terry Armstrong says Lordstown lost a piece of its future, too.

“We’ve had families that had to move. You see students who are here their whole lives and they are excelling, but to be able to put food on the table they’re leaving," Armstrong said.

Credit Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio
Rusty chains lock gates to the former Copperweld Steel Company site near N. River Road NW which opened in 1939 in Warren, Ohio.

That continues another troubling trend for Trumbull. Its population is down to about 200,000 – a loss of more than 40,000 since 1980.

Tommy Wolikow and Rochelle Carlisle are not leaving. They love the community, and have an extended and engaged family, plus aging parents.

“He would have to leave his daughter," Carlisle said. "I would have to take my daughter from her father, who she sees on a weekly basis. And I take care of my mother, who’s sickly. I do all of her shopping, I pay all of her bills. I take her to all of her appointments, wherever she needs to go.” 

Tim Francisco, head of Youngstown State University’s Center For Working-Class Studies, says family connected-ness is a core value of communities like Trumbull.

“They’re rooted to a kind of place that isn’t just sentimentality," he said. "Working-class families rely on one another for social needs, for things like childcare. It’s not that easy to just say, ‘Hey, we’re all going to just move away.’”

So Carlisle, Wolikow and others in the community are fighting to keep jobs here.

Credit Lisa DeJong / Your Voice Ohio
Tommy Wolikow, 36, folds his UAW t-shirts as he packs for a last-minute trip to a Trump rally in Rochester, MN on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.

The union held a rally last month with Good Jobs Nation to try pressure GM to move models to Lordstown from overseas and to challenge national trade and tax policy to stop off-shoring.

Local union president David Green says the concern extends beyond Lordstown.

"Thirty-five percent of the parts that go into our car comes from the state of Ohio," he said. "We’ve got lots of small mom-and-pop shops. They make one small plastic piece.”

WolikIow and Carlisle also have taken their case to President Trump. They travelled to rallies in West Virginia and Minnesota to deliver letters to the president’s campaign manager.

But mortgages and credit-card bills won’t wait for big policy changes. Wolikow used his roughly $15,000 in federal retraining money for diesel mechanics and truck driving. And Carlisle is waiting tables for $4.15 and hour, plus tips.