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The UAW officer leading talks with GM is from the assembly line and ready to fight

Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

Lordstown built its last Chevrolet Cruze compact car in March, then the plant idled. GM's initial proposal to the UAW offered to build a battery cell manufacturing facility near the assembly plant. GM is also in talks to sell the existing facility to Lordstown Motors, an entity backed by electric-truck maker Workhorse.

But the UAW wants a new GM product allocated to Lordstown. O'Hara has faith in Dittes to get that job done.

"We started off as line workers, moved up and got elected to office," said O'Hara. "So I liked him and I was confident that the fate of Lordstown was going to be in his hands during negotiations."

O'Hara was in Detroit on Sept. 15 as part of the UAW's National Council. He was one of some 700 other leaders who voted unanimously to strike GM after Dittes and the bargaining committee rejected GM's initial contract offer. GM made the offer two hours before the UAW's 2015 contract expired at midnight Sept. 14.

"When we took the strike vote, he called General Motors 'one of the most arrogant companies he's ever dealt with,' " said O'Hara. "That struck a chord with me because we've known that for a while here at Lordstown. They basically only followed the contract when it benefited them. So I really liked it when he called GM arrogant."

Dittes was unafraid of saying how he felt to GM's face.

 

In March, when CEO Mary Barra went to GM's Orion Assembly Plant north of Detroit to announce the company would invest $300 million to build a new electric car there, Dittes took the stage. He thanked GM for its new investment at Orion, but was quick to note, "There's hardship among four of our other locations and we've made it clear we disagree with that."

Dittes told reporters the UAW would not forget the four plants in negotiations. The four plants that GM "unallocated" were Lordstown, Detroit-Hamtramck, and transmission plants in Warren and Baltimore. Detroit-Hamtramck continues to run at reduced output and currently is scheduled to close in January.

Dittes' road to the main bargaining room at the Renaissance Center came amid UAW upheaval.

In January 2018, the UAW Executive Board tapped Dittes to oversee the Fiat Chrysler Automobile department. He replaced Norwood Jewell, who resigned over his involvement in a federal corruption probe involving millions of dollars from a joint training center allegedly embezzled by both union and company officials. Jewell has since been charged and pleaded guilty.

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