WASHINGTON -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra told members of Congress upset about impending layoffs Wednesday that while she understands that the federal government spent billions on saving the company a decade ago, she must look forward to positioning the company for growth.
"We are in an industry that is transforming faster than I've seen in a 30-plus-year career," said Barra, referring to technological, consumer and other forces that she has said forced the company to announce last week the idling of plants in Detroit-Hamtramck, Lordstown, Ohio, and elsewhere and the loss of some 14,000 employees.
After meeting with U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, both of Ohio, Barra, in her first public appearance since last week's announcement, said GM is working with the UAW to determine how best to use the so-called "unallocated" plants and how to train workers to put them into positions open elsewhere.
Brown, a Democrat, and Portman, a Republican, said they both pressed Barra to get a new product in Lordstown. Knowing that GM is set to enter negotiations with the UAW for how and where its workforce will be placed, Brown said he's looking for a solution "sooner rather than later" and that he expects GM to stand up for its workers.
"The government saved this company," he said, referring to the rescue of General Motors in 2009 and 2010.
Portman said he spoke to President Donald Trump again on Wednesday about the GM cuts and that he "is very committed to keeping this assembly plant in Ohio." Trump has threatened GM with tariffs and a loss of subsidies for electric vehicle sales if it follows through on the cuts.
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Portman said that he and Brown understood that sales of the Cruze -- made in Lordstown -- were not as good as they had been and that the company faced competitive pressures, including a slowdown in sales. He also said that when he urged Barra to put another product in Lordstown, she said she'll "keep an open mind but she doesn't want to raise expectations."
As to threats from Trump and others in Washington, she simply said, "Where we are focused right now is on the workers." She also noted the company has invested some $22 billion in its U.S. operations since the government rescue in 2009.
Earlier Wednesday, Barra met with new members of Congress -- including Michigan's four new members -- at Harvard's Kennedy School,
The discussion was off-the-record, part of a multiday program to bring together experts and officials and incoming members of Congress. U.S. Reps.-elect Andy Levin and Haley Stevens, both Michigan Democrats, confirmed for the Free Press that Barra spoke, and they generally characterized her comments.