What Happens When GM Closes A Plant

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"The Last Truck", a new documentary about the closing of a General Motors plant in Moraine Ohio will air tonight on HBO. Renee Montagne talks with filmmaker Steve Bognar and former auto worker Kate Geiger about the film.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

NPR's business news this Labor Day starts with the loss of a job and a way of life.

When General Motors announced that it would close a giant assembly plant outside Dayton, Ohio, last summer, two filmmakers decided to follow the workers there until they assembled their last vehicle six months later. That documentary called the "The Last Truck" by Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar airs on HBO tonight. Steve Bognar joined us to talk about it along with Kate Geiger. She worked at that plant for 24 years, most recently as a forklift operator.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Mr. STEVE BOGNAR (Filmmaker, co-producer of "The Last Truck"): Thank you.

Ms. KATE GEIGER: Thank you for having us.

MONTAGNE: I wanted to start off by playing a clip. In a sense this moment is at the heart of the film. It's the moment that the last truck, which is a white SUV, rolls down the assembly line. And the person we're going to hear talking is a worker named Kim Clay.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Last Truck")

Mr. KIM CLAY (Employee, General Motors): Each person has a job to do on that line and once they do that job they go to the next truck, do the same thing to the next truck. So when the last truck came, they didn't have anymore jobs to do.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CLAY: Whatever line they're on, they follow that last part around. And then, when we finally got to where the truck was assembled completely, we just had a group of people.

MONTAGNE: That group was, it was a crowd of people sort of all around the truck. I know we're starting this on a really sad note.

Ms. GEIGER: Can you hear me crying?

(Soundbite of crying)

Ms. GEIGER: Sorry. Wow.

MONTAGNE: Well, you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GEIGER: I didn't expect to relive that. Yeah. Yeah.

MONTAGNE: You were there, Kate Geiger. What were you thinking?

Ms. GEIGER: I know that I just had this feeling that I didn't want to leave the truck. It was - if we let that truck go, we had to let go of our way of life, our careers, our GM family. And we didn't want to do that.

Mr. BOGNAR: I think when Julia and I started the film we didn't realize - we sort of knew that people loved the paycheck, you know, and they believed in the work. But we didn't have a clue as to the depth of emotion that people had for each other, and here they were having to shut down the line and shut down those relationships.

MONTAGNE: And now Steve, I know you wouldn't have been there because the GM folks didn't want you in their filming. How did you get the pictures?

Mr. BOGNAR: You know, it's kind of an amazing thing that happened. We were talking to Kate one day about how GM didn't want to let us into the plant. And Kate said, you know, my cell phone will shoot video or something like that. And we just realized well, everybody these days has a camera and all the footage from that last day, amazingly beautiful stuff, all that footage came from workers.

MONTAGNE: There's another moment in the film, and this involves you Kate Geiger, it's pretty vivid of what is I think people on the outside think of as well, machines in a big factory.

Ms. GEIGER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: But in the film that's not how you spoke of it.

(Soundbite of documentary, "The Last Truck")

Ms. GEIGER: I just had this vision of this big, gentle dragon that was laying down, taking its last breath. The steam pipes, and the air hoses, sparks coming out of that robot with the heat, and you just imagine everything just (makes noise).

MONTAGNE: It's interesting that it feels like it's almost a living thing, the plant.

Ms. GEIGER: It does. About the time that I would be arriving, lights would be coming on on the motor line, on the chassis line, and it was like the building was saying good morning. And so when we left, it was like the dragon was laying down and dying and saying, don't leave me. It was absolutely gut-wrenching to have to leave that building.

MONTAGNE: Kate, you have, though, moved on to the point where you're studying Web design. You're looking to an entirely new career.

Ms. GEIGER: Yes.

MONTAGNE: What do you hope for your future?

Ms. GEIGER: I really hope that for the rest of my life I can be doing some kind of meaningful work, I can stay gainfully employed. And I just saw Web development and Web design as the new future, hoping that that'll pay off in the Dayton area, and if not, I'll certainly relocate if I have to.

Mr. BOGNAR: Well Kate, I would say you're one of the resilient ones. There are, you know, there's other people who are really struggling. There's been waves of depression that have hit people.

Ms. GEIGER: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BOGNAR: We've even heard there's been a few suicides since the plant closed…

Ms. GEIGER: Mm-hmm. There have, three.

Mr. BOGNAR: …of former workers.

Ms. GEIGER: Three suicides.

MONTAGNE: Your…

Ms. GEIGER: Coworkers.

MONTAGNE: Coworkers?

Ms. GEIGER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. BOGNAR: I'm sorry, it's a, yeah, so I don't know. There's a range of resilience involved.

MONTAGNE: How do you and your now former coworkers, how do you feel about the place that was home, General Motors itself, the company?

Ms. GEIGER: We, I believe the general consensus is that we're very angry about the mismanagement of the company over all of these years. I'm not saying that it was all management's fault by any means. It was a lot of greed in the 60s and 70s by the union. But, you know, my generation of workers for the last 20, 25 years, we have been the ones that have been making the concessions, and so we're not the ones that caused the decline of a great company.

Mr. BOGNAR: If I could, I just would add too that I think people do feel angry, but we also heard people expressing gratitude. People would say things like we've had a really good long run. It was like a full range of human emotion wrapped up, and it really depended on where a person was on what day.

MONTAGNE: Steve Bognar is a filmmaker and co-producer along with Julia Reichert of "The Last Truck."

Kate Geiger is a former employee of General Motors.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Well, thank both of you for joining us.

Mr. BOGNAR: Thank you, Renee.

Ms. GEIGER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And that's the business news on this Labor Day from NPR News.

It's MORNING EDITION. I'm Renee Montagne.

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