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The Wall Street Journal
November 30, 2020

Lordstown workers leave families behind in Ohio for far-away jobs.

On Zach Sherry’s first day of work at the General Motors Co. factory in Bedford, Ind., trainers gave a safety presentation that included an image of a cartoon hand spurting blood from the ring finger.

The overt message was straightforward: Rings can get caught in the machinery, so don’t wear them on the job.

The symbolism wasn’t lost on the 48year-old Mr. Sherry, who had transferred to the Indiana facility after losing his previous job at the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that shut down last year. The transfer meant leaving his family behind one state away.

“You just took me 450 miles from my home and you’re telling me to take my wedding ring off,” he says.

Mr. Sherry is one of a cadre of Lordstown workers turned middle-aged industrial migrants, venturing out alone in search of good pay and benefits.

Itinerant work has long been common in manufacturing, including people moving around the country for fracking jobs. Auto workers haven’t been immune to chasing their livelihoods across state lines, either. When GM and Chrysler LLC. closed plants as part of their bankruptcy restructurings a decade ago, workers were moved to the factories that survived.

The workers in Lordstown, many of whom are multigenerational GM employees, never planned to be among them. The plant was an example of American manufacturing might when it opened in 1966, churning out Chevrolet Impalas, Bel Airs and Caprices.

It has since become a symbol of the economic struggles of those who work in factory jobs. American auto workers in particular, already losing work due to advances in automation and shifts to overseas plants, now also face dwindling job prospects as car makers increasingly look to move to easier-to-assemble electric models.

A few months after taking office, President Trump traveled to Youngstown, a short drive from Lordstown, addressing blue-collar supporters who worried their factory jobs were gone for good.

“They’re all coming back,” he said. “Don’t move. Don’t sell your house.”

Instead, cratering demand for the Chevrolet Cruze left the Lordstown plant without a car to build, and, following a 40-day strike, company and United Auto Workers union officials agreed on terms for closing the plant. A large cadre of veteran employees faced the choice between staying home with their families but uncertain financial futures, or relocating to other GM plants where they’d hang onto their union pay and benefits.

When the assembly lines at Lordstown finally stopped, nearly all of the plant’s roughly 1,400 hourly auto workers were able to find jobs at other GM plants. The vast majority were in Texas, Missouri, Tennessee and other out-of-state locations, according to the company.

Veteran GM workers have an incentive to stay with the company. For decades, good pay and defined-benefit pensions were guaranteed in contracts negotiated by United Auto Workers for workers at GM, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. U.S. car companies and the union agreed to eliminate pensions for new hires in 2007.

GM’s Bedford, Ind., facility, which took some 60 former Lordstown workers, churns out engine and transmission components 24 hours a day. The company often requires employees there to work seven days a week. There’s abundant additional overtime for those who want it.

The result is that many Lordstown migrants have seen their lives reduced to work-eat sleep-work cycles, clocking in and clocking out until they can rejoin their families.

Jay Dye

It’s almost like the bright yellow Chevy Cobalt is taunting Jay Dye.

Every day around 7:30 p.m., after another 12-hour shift at the Bedford factory, Mr. Dye unwinds with a stroll around the Eagle Pointe Golf Resort, where he shares a two-bedroom rental unit with another transient GM forklift driver. The route leads him past the home of a GM family with the Cobalt in the driveway.

The model used to be assembled at the Lordstown factory. The chances are pretty good that Mr. Dye installed the speedometer or the radio on the yellow one.

“Seeing that car every day is a kick in the gut,” he says.

Mr. Dye, 45 years old, started out studying special education at Kent State University. But the $18,000 he expected to earn as a teacher after college couldn’t match the $50,000 he’d make at GM with a high-school diploma. So he quit school and, in 1996, took a job at Lordstown, a ticket to the middle class. In six years he’ll complete three decades at GM and be eligible to retire with a $3,400 monthly pension.

As rumors swirled about Lordstown’s closure in 2017, Mr. Dye found comfort in Mr. Trump’s words and in the UAW’s reassurances that union leaders would press GM to find some use for the plant.

“My whole life I thought Lordstown was going to be there,” he says.

His daughter, 17-year-old Gianna, is a drum majorette and a competitive golfer and dancer. Neither Mr. Dye nor his wife, clinical social worker Cathy Dye, wanted to tear her away from her high school and activities in Ohio.

Some co-workers transferred to other factories in the months before GM and the UAW agreed on terms for closing Lordstown. Mr. Dye held out until just a month before the shutdown and found himself with limited options.

He settled for a $5,000 relocation bonus, which committed him to work one year in Bedford, 6½ hours by car from home.

He brought very little with him: Five pairs of ****ies work pants, four pairs of jeans, some T-shirts and a few sweatshirts. He figures he can pack it all, start the car and be gone in two minutes.

The Dyes’ youngest, 9-year-old Jaxon, has taken his father’s absence the hardest of their three children. During his evening walks, Mr. Dye fields calls from Jaxon about football or his favorite hobby—racing small, high-powered cars on a dirt track.

When Mr. Dye visits home, every third weekend, he usually sleeps in Jaxon’s room.

In Bedford, he punches in each day between 6:54 and 6:56 a.m., and starts driving the forklift at 7. He usually logs 84 hours a week—12 hours a day over seven days— loading trucks with parts for factories in Mexico, Canada, New York and other states.

“Right now I’m existing,” Mr. Dye says. “I’m not really living.”

This fall, Mr. Dye got a reprieve of sorts. GM granted his request to transfer to a plant in Toledo, and he started there Monday. Unlike the Bedford factory, Toledo doesn’t have mandatory weekend shifts, so he plans to visit home every week. And the plant is just 2½ hours away, adding eight hours of family time to every weekend visit.

Zach Sherry

Before he punches in at the factory by 3 each afternoon, Mr. Sherry takes off his wedding ring, secures it in an Altoids tin and tucks it into his lunchbox.

He and his wife, Liz Sherry, 48, were high-school sweethearts. Thirty years later, he is still happy to warm up her cold feet at night. “It’s just a little thing, but it makes me miss him,” says Mrs. Sherry.

One morning after he left for Indiana, she woke up to discover that during the night she had organized his pillows into the shape of a person.

Mrs. Sherry lives on her family farm in East Palestine, Ohio, in the dream house she and Mr. Sherry built together, sunflowers lining the driveway.

In Indiana, Mr. Sherry rented for a while. In July he bought a two-bedroom condo, complete with furniture, in the Eagle Pointe development where Mr. Dye lived. The condo retains the impersonal cleanliness of a real-estate developer’s model home.

The house backs onto a wooded hillside leading down to Monroe Lake. Most mornings before work, Mr. Sherry carves a couple of steps into the steep slope, gradually building a staircase connecting the condo to the shore.

It’s a ploy to make Indiana an appealing place to stay for his kids, 19-year-old Parker, a quarterback at West Liberty University in Wheeling, W.Va., and 17-year-old Payton, in her senior year of high school.

Mr. Sherry bought two kayaks and fantasizes that Parker will do his online studies at the condo and they’ll paddle around the lake together. He watches Payton’s basketball games online and plans vacations around her golf tournaments.

After Mr. Sherry finishes cutting stairs, he goes for a short hike or jumps in the lake. One recent morning he pointed across the cove toward the home of another Lordstown bachelor. “He’s got three kids,” Mr. Sherry said, before pivoting and pointing toward a house in the other direction. “He’s got kids.”

Stories circulate among the Lordstown transplants of marriages crumbling under the pressure of separation.

Payton feels guilty for not making more time for phone calls with her dad. To compensate, she saved their favorite shows from Shark Week to watch with him.

Parker worries about his dad’s loneliness, and about his own. “It’s like I lost my best friend,” Parker says, his voice catching.

After high school, Mr. Sherry worked in a country-club locker room, before starting his own cleaning service.

He felt lucky when his brother hooked him up with GM in 2000. “In our area there aren’t many jobs,” he says.

Now he’s 10 years away from being eligible to retire and, having grown up poor himself, hopes to have enough money when he dies to leave something for Payton and Parker.

To do that, he took on one of the most dangerous jobs at the Bedford factory—mixing alloys in a foundry that burns at 1,700 degrees. He spends all day in a smock and a full sweat, melting down rejected parts and other aluminum scrap.

“I don’t know if I’ve got 10 years in me,” Mr. Sherry admits.

Dan Santangelo

On the wall of Dan Santangelo’s rented house at Eagle Pointe is a cluster of framed photos. Happy grandkids. An expectant couple. Palm trees and a grinning vacationer.

It’s a typical display of family photos. But it’s the landlord’s family on the wall, not Mr. Santangelo’s.

Mr. Santangelo, 50, started missing his family even before he left them to work at Bedford last year. Day after day he sat silently in a recliner at the house in New Middleton, Ohio, and stared into the void like a man facing a prison sentence— five years away from home until he could retire.

He’d chew over the what-ifs. What if his parents got sick? What if something happened to his two kids, or his wife? What if he didn’t earn enough to cover two households?

He stopped eating but couldn’t stop throwing up. His wife, Anna Santangelo, finally convinced him to seek help.

The doctor put him on “happy pills,” as Mr. Santangelo calls the antidepressants. He’s not happy. But the drugs keep him suspended above the abyss.

The blackness was familiar and frightening. In 2009, the Santangelos found themselves in a deep financial hole, having overspent on their three-bedroom ranch house. The national recession led GM to cut shifts at the Lordstown plant, and the combination of growing debt and reduced income forced the family to seek refuge in bankruptcy.

Mr. Santangelo contemplated suicide, contriving ways to make it look accidental so that his wife could get his life-insurance payout. “I felt like I failed as a man, a husband and a father,” he says.

His family talked him back from the brink, and life settled down into a happy decade of basketball games with his daughter, 19-year-old Gianna, and working at the volunteer fire department with his son, 22-year-old Joe. The family shared Sunday night pasta dinners with his parents.

Mr. Santangelo admits he cheated his way through high school and struggled with the book work when he tried aircraft mechanics.

His father, Perry Santangelo, worked at the GM Lordstown plant from 1966 to 2000. He pulled strings with the union to get Dan a job in 1995.

“I knew if I got into GM, my worries were over,” say the younger Mr. Santangelo.

When Lordstown shut its doors, Mr. Santangelo took a $30,000 bonus for a three-year commitment to relocate to Bedford. “You’ve got no choice, buddy,” his father told him. “You can’t just quit GM.”

Until Mr. Dye moved to Toledo this month, he and Mr. Santangelo shared the two-bedroom unit at Eagle Pointe. Some days, the only time they saw each other was when Mr. Santangelo finished the overnight shift, which starts at 11 p.m., and handed off the forklift to Mr. Dye in the morning.

Every day Mr. Santangelo packs the same sandwich— ham, turkey, cheese and Miracle Whip on wheat—for the unnamed meal that comes in the middle of his shift.

He frets over the possibility that he won’t be close enough to help if something bad happens to his family. He calls Joe to remind him to replace the smoke-detector batteries. It was mere chance that he was home in May, when Mrs. Santangelo’s father grew fevered and delirious and died of Covid-19 alone in the hospital.

The stability and security Mr. Santangelo thought would be his when he joined GM remain just out of reach. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think Lordstown would close,” he says.

‘My whole life I thought Lordstown was going to be there,’ a worker says.








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In Bedford, he punches in each day between 6:54 and 6:56 a.m., and starts driving the forklift at 7. He usually logs 84 hours a week—12 hours a day over seven days— loading trucks with parts for factories in Mexico, Canada, New York and other states.

“Right now I’m existing,” Mr. Dye says. “I’m not really living.”
The Lordstown assembly plant was the place of the notorious Lordstown Strike of 1972, a strike against management at the GM plant. The strike resulted in many defective Chevys coming off the line with torn upholstery and other defects. The strike lasted a total of 22 days and cost GM $150 million. Later strikers elsewhere who similarly engaged in disrupting production lines were labeled as having "Lordstown Syndrome". According to Peter Drucker, a management consultant, it was not just the rigid discipline of the assembly line, or the speedup of operation, but rather that the workers almost unanimously felt they could have done a better job at designing much of their own work than GM's industrial engineers (hence the need to include the floor workers in part of the plant design process).
You wonder how this is possible. Lordstown assembly got screwed with incredibly bad GM vehicles (Vega, Monza, Cavalier, Cobalt, Cruze, among others), over the years. GM did right in shutting it down - there was no going back - but the human toll is tough to take.








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“You just took me 450 miles from my home and you’re telling me to take my wedding ring off,” he says.
LOL, well, if you had taken time to improve your skills, you could have stayed with your family fool, no one owes you anything in this life, not even your own mother.

Meanwhile, I just got accepted for a Ph.D program in Data analytics, please someone convivence me how America discriminates against black people, for a poor kid that came to America (Legally) with $3000.00 to start college, America has been a great place for me. I even found a wife. (Pole) and no one has ever given me sheit for my color, not even in Arkansas
 

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You wonder how this is possible. Lordstown assembly got screwed with incredibly bad GM vehicles (Vega, Monza, Cavalier, Cobalt, Cruze, among others), over the years. GM did right in shutting it down - there was no going back - but the human toll is tough to take.








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People always forget the people when business decisions are made

Not everyone can be retrained or relocated

In the last 15 years i've been made redundant twice and been incredibly lucky each time to have a new job very soon after the payout

Not everyone is that lucky
 

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LOL, well, if you had taken time to improve your skills, you could have stayed with your family fool, no one owes you anything in this life, not even your own mother.

Meanwhile, I just got accepted for a Ph.D program in Data analytics, please someone convivence me how America discriminates against black people, for a poor kid that came to America (Legally) with $3000.00 to start college, America has been a great place for me. I even found a wife. (Pole) and no one has ever given me sheit for my color, not even in Arkansas
People can't get a PHD in... anything... without a college degree and a Masters.
These guys don't have that.

There's 2 sides of the same coin. America's institutions do discriminate. They were built and designed that way. The flip side is, people need to WANT to do better. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
And while there are a lot of exceptions out there, that isn't always the case. Also, the data does show that education for black and latinos is lower than whites and Asians.

But when you live in a town of < 10,000, the opportunities are few and far between. You have to leave and go to where the opportunities are. You and I live in a major metro area where opportunities are limitless. A good number of this country does not.
 

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People can't get a PHD in... anything... without a college degree and a Masters.
These guys don't have that.

There's 2 sides of the same coin. America's institutions do discriminate. They were built and designed that way. The flip side is, people need to WANT to do better. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
And while there are a lot of exceptions out there, that isn't always the case. Also, the data does show that education for black and latinos is lower than whites and Asians.

But when you live in a town of < 10,000, the opportunities are few and far between. You have to leave and go to where the opportunities are. You and I live in a major metro area where opportunities are limitless. A good number of this country does not.
Like you said, personal initiative is key. My view is , I have a better shot at success in Mogadishu than your average westerner, but I would rather slog it out with westerners in their turf than be in Mogadishu.

Therefore, if one stays in an area without opportunities, they cannot blame others for their situation. All things considered.

But then again, we are now the preferred skin shade, with all the trappings of power in America.

The Human race is quite interesting
 

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People can't get a PHD in... anything... without a college degree and a Masters.
These guys don't have that.

There's 2 sides of the same coin. America's institutions do discriminate. They were built and designed that way. The flip side is, people need to WANT to do better. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
And while there are a lot of exceptions out there, that isn't always the case. Also, the data does show that education for black and latinos is lower than whites and Asians.

But when you live in a town of < 10,000, the opportunities are few and far between. You have to leave and go to where the opportunities are. You and I live in a major metro area where opportunities are limitless. A good number of this country does not.
Not only that but some people either cannot or do not want to get further education

Labourers are needed just as much as doctors and lawyers in the world

And neither id more important than the other

Although funnily enough the Covid crisis has made us appreciate those less educated

Not much need for an arts degree when you cant get food to market ;)
 

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Mind you, excellence is not only found amongst the college graduates, there is excellence in all fields, from brick laying to machinists, and everything in between.

One cannot stay stagnant in their chosen field and expect to have the freedom to chose their destiny.

Mother Barrah, started out checking fender panels and bonnets on the factory floor as she went to engineering school, and built from there.

But Unions sell these poor souls a bill of goods
 

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You wonder how this is possible. Lordstown assembly got screwed with incredibly bad GM vehicles (Vega, Monza, Cavalier, Cobalt, Cruze, among others), over the years. GM did right in shutting it down - there was no going back - but the human toll is tough to take.

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Why do you say GM did the right thing?


Lordstown Motors is making (or will be) what is essentially an electric version of the K2XX, why couldn't GM have done that?



Mind you, excellence is not only found amongst the college graduates, there is excellence in all fields, from brick laying to machinists, and everything in between.

One cannot stay stagnant in their chosen field and expect to have the freedom to chose their destiny.

Mother Barrah, started out checking fender panels and bonnets on the factory floor as she went to engineering school, and built from there.

But Unions sell these poor souls a bill of goods
Right, the end-game for a line-worker is to be a line-worker; just put on the part, and move it over here, 90 times a minute, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or in this one case, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.............


In Bedford, he punches in each day between 6:54 and 6:56 a.m., and starts driving the forklift at 7. He usually logs 84 hours a week—12 hours a day over seven days— loading trucks with parts for factories in Mexico, Canada, New York and other states.

“Right now I’m existing,” Mr. Dye says. “I’m not really living.”
This is brutal; and rings very-close to home, my dad also drove a fork-lift truck. I recall one year my dad was working all the time, it was 1999 right before his heart attack.

His normal shift was 6:00am to 2:30 with a 1/2 hour for lunch, most days he was working going in at 3:00am instead of 6:00am and worked until 3:30 12 hour days, plus most weekend. 8-10 hour days.

One day that year, I noticed his index finger on his hand, it looked all swelled, I said "What is wrong with your finger!?" It was a callus around his entire finger from spinning the steering wheel with his finger so much, I remember getting a much smaller, similar bump on my finger in school when I did a lot of writing, anyway he did little that year but, work-eat-sleep.
 

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You wonder how this is possible. Lordstown assembly got screwed with incredibly bad GM vehicles (Vega, Monza, Cavalier, Cobalt, Cruze, among others), over the years. GM did right in shutting it down - there was no going back - but the human toll is tough to take.








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I'm not quite old enough to know the Monza. But the Cavalier, and definitely not the Cobalt and Cruze, do not qualify as "incredibly bad." And it's not like they didn't sell either. For years, they sold incredibly well. The market changed.

GM supposedly always lost money on these vehicles. That's high labor costs. Why should workers assembling a low-cost car be paid the same as those assembling high-profit luxury cars and SUVs? It's wasn't because the product at its price point justified those wages. It was because the UAW said so. At some point, that model was doomed to fail.

Personal stories can be sad. (Complaining about removing a wedding ring when operating machinery is just pathetic though. And you know if he lost a finger, he'd blame GM and sue.) But relocating for employment is and always has been a fact of life. I've done it twice. No job is guaranteed forever. Companies changes, competition changes, the economy evolves. Having to move from Ohio to Indiana isn't exactly the trail of tears.
 

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I'm not quite old enough to know the Monza. But the Cavalier, and definitely not the Cobalt and Cruze, do not qualify as "incredibly bad." And it's not like they didn't sell either. For years, they sold incredibly well. The market changed.

GM supposedly always lost money on these vehicles. That's high labor costs. Why should workers assembling a low-cost car be paid the same as those assembling high-profit luxury cars and SUVs? It's wasn't because the product at its price point justified those wages. It was because the UAW said so. At some point, that model was doomed to fail.

Personal stories can be sad. (Complaining about removing a wedding ring when operating machinery is just pathetic though. And you know if he lost a finger, he'd blame GM and sue.) But relocating for employment is and always has been a fact of life. I've done it twice. No job is guaranteed forever. Companies changes, competition changes, the economy evolves. Having to move from Ohio to Indiana isn't exactly the trail of tears.
Encore, Encore GX, Trax, Trailblazer would have worked well in Lordstown, no?

Lots of blame/victims, but sounds like a few in the story have +20 years, looking for retirement at 30 years, with kids in high-school and a spouse with a job, you should be able to understand the resistance to blow that all up, move to the next state, with the possibility that GM does it to him again and closes his current facility in a couple years?
 

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Hard to feel bad for the guy too dumb to remove his wedding ring, although it does partially explain how he got himself into this situation. Jobs are never a sure thing, always have a back up plan or 2. One good job near where you live? Start looking for somewhere else to live.
 

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Hard to feel bad for the guy too dumb to remove his wedding ring, although it does partially explain how he got himself into this situation. Jobs are never a sure thing, always have a back up plan or 2. One good job near where you live? Start looking for somewhere else to live.
+1
Did Mr. Sherry not take off his ring when working with machinery at Lordstown Assembly? If he's truly opposed to taking it off, I guess he's willing to increase his chances that he'll come home to his wife as an amputee? What does Mrs. Sherry think about that?
 

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Lordstown some of the worst quality control of any GM Plant. It turned many people off so they weren't buy them. The cars themselves were decent but missing screws, parts not fully put together are just issues had with my sunfire and Cruzes. From the guys comment about his wedding ring tells me he only went to work for a check and didn't care about the product he was putting out.
 

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Meanwhile, I just got accepted for a Ph.D program in Data analytics
Congratulations mbukukanyau! Would you consider working for GM after you earn your doctorate? GM is hiring data analysis specialists like crazy. There are hundreds of openings in the field of data management and analytics at several GM offices around the world.
 

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tLordstown some of the worst quality control of any GM Plant. It turned many people off so they weren't buy them. The cars themselves were decent but missing screws, parts not fully put together are just issues had with my sunfire and Cruzes. From the guys comment about his wedding ring tells me he only went to work for a check and didn't care about the product he was putting out.
In 1982 I did a term project for an Organizational Behavior class where I compared the working conditions at Lordstown vs a Volvo plant at Kalmarr, Sweden. The Lordstown plant was as bad as it could be: they fought all the time, were bored, absent and maybe drunk.

Volvo was the opposite. Volvo rotated workers so that they attained mastery, for example, everything that you needed to know about the interior. There was pride in being an expert. Then the worker supervises others in this area. Then he steps back and works on improving processes. Then he moves on to another area.

I concluded that the mundane processes and the hidebond culture at Lordstown made people into drones, and the unions fanned resentment. If GM worked to emulate the Volvo model, the work rules imposed by the union would have been an obstacle, not that GM tried.

I also compared the Ford Flat Rock plant with the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA, but I'll save that for another day.
 

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Encore, Encore GX, Trax, Trailblazer would have worked well in Lordstown, no?

Lots of blame/victims, but sounds like a few in the story have +20 years, looking for retirement at 30 years, with kids in high-school and a spouse with a job, you should be able to understand the resistance to blow that all up, move to the next state, with the possibility that GM does it to him again and closes his current facility in a couple years?
I think they should have retooled Lordtown to build other vehicles. Totally agree with that.

I'd hate it if I had to pick up and move because my job was moved or I had to seek out another. But I've always known that it was a possibility. That's just life. I'd think that a person given another job by GM would be grateful. Did they really hire on at Lordstown at 22 years old and figure, "That's it. No doubt about it, I'm set for life!" If so, that was foolish, especially since the erosion in manufacturing started a very long time go.
 
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Congratulations mbukukanyau! Would you consider working for GM after you earn your doctorate? GM is hiring data analysis specialists like crazy. There are hundreds of openings in the field of data management and analytics at several GM offices around the world.
Thank you, I would consider it, however, I have three years of misery ahead of me and my current employer a defense giant is paying partly for it. The shade of my skin means I also have access to scholarships my wife wouldn’t get... stupid, I know...I am going to slog it out... would you PM me, I would like to know more...
 

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Congratulations mbukukanyau! Would you consider working for GM after you earn your doctorate? GM is hiring data analysis specialists like crazy. There are hundreds of openings in the field of data management and analytics at several GM offices around the world.
Hard core data analytics positions are available in every industry. And they pay very well, particularly in Silicon Valley and banking.
 

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I think they should have retooled Lordtown to build other vehicles. Totally agree with that.

I'd hate it if I had to pick up and move because my job was moved or I had to seek out another. But I've always known that it was a possibility. That's just life. I'd think that a person given another job by GM would be grateful. Did they really hire on at Lordstown at 22 years old and figure, "That's it. No doubt about it, I'm set for life!" If so, that was foolish, especially since the erosion in manufacturing started a very long time go.
Well, there is manufacturing at Lordstown eventually. GM has invested in Lordstown Motors for building commercial electric pickup trucks. But it's no longer a GM plant. It is GM backed though.
 
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