Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell Is Not Happy With GM's Elimination Of So Many Jobs
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
General Motors' announcement this week of layoffs and production cuts continues to reverberate. And today, President Trump said on Twitter he is, quote, "studying" new tariffs on cars, suggesting that if there were higher tariffs, more cars would be built here in the U.S., and GM would not close plants.
To talk more about this, we called Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. She is a Democrat from Michigan who also worked for General Motors for many years.
DEBBIE DINGELL: You know, I'm not clear what the exact impact is on tariffs. I do know that we have needed for some time a level playing field in the global trading market. I think that's one of the reasons that President Trump won. Democrats didn't talk enough about trade two years ago. And I think one of the problems with President Trump's trade policy is that it's all over the place.
I have said in the past that I would work with the president if he did something that would help the working men and women of my district, of my state. I'm not - was not opposed to supporting NAFTA 2.0 if it actually helped the workers. I'm worried about it now. I'm hearing that further jobs may be shipped to Mexico, and I'm not going to support any kind of trade agreement that's going to keep shipping these jobs overseas.
KELLY: You mentioned the working men and women of your district. What are you hearing from them this week? We should mention Trump - he won obviously in 2016. He won Michigan in 2016.
DINGELL: Well, you know, it's complicated, as all things in life are. The day before the election, I was at the Flat Rock plant which Ford announced the elimination of a shift at. And that day that I was at Flat Rock, there were many people still supporting the president. There were others who had said that before he was president, they had been working overtime, and they had just come off a two-week layoff.
KELLY: Are you hearing from your constituents that they blame him for things such as this GM announcement this week? I mean, he ran with a very protectionist, "America First" stance.
DINGELL: You know, we're not monolithic, you know? (Laughter) I've had some retirees tell me that Donald Trump was more democratic than Jack Kennedy. And I've had other people who are very upset and thinks that it is hurting. But I will tell you something that's very real - is that in my area, still what happened in 2008 has never left the hearts and souls of people.
KELLY: You're talking about the financial crisis and all the problems with the auto industry.
DINGELL: They haven't forgotten that fear. And what's happening this week is keeping that fear and anxiety in their hearts and souls.
KELLY: What's your reaction to what's happening this week?
DINGELL: So I have different reactions. I don't like the way that it was handled. I think many, many people were surprised. It's right before the holidays. You know, Ford eliminated a shift in my district today, but they're making the point of making sure employees can go to another plant. They're looking at trying to keep production in this country. I don't hear GM committed to keeping production in this country. They've already moved the Blazer to Mexico. I don't want to see any more jobs go to Mexico. I want to see them stay here.
KELLY: You took early retirement at GM back in 2009. Is that right?
DINGELL: That is correct.
KELLY: So, I mean, you have a long view on this, longer than many of us have. Do you see this week's news as something we should set in the context as another turn in a cycle that's going to keep going? Or is this something different?
DINGELL: Well, first of all, this is a cyclical industry, and this has been the longest sustained period of good sales really almost in the history of this industry. So you're going to see a softening. But it is an industry that's transforming. The industry's not going away, but it's changing.
KELLY: You sound optimistic to a point but also pretty mad about the way this was handled.
DINGELL: I mean, you can tell I'm pretty mad at GM. Look; they're still creating jobs. The auto industry is still one of the backbones of the American economy. But I also want to see companies that care about the workers. I mean, you have to be profitable. I understand that. But you also have to take care of your workers. The workers matter as much as the executives do. And it used to be that those at the top cared about having some kind of balance. And I just quite frankly didn't see a lot of concern for workers.
KELLY: Congresswoman Dingell, thank you.
DINGELL: Thank you.
KELLY: That's Representative Debbie Dingell, Michigan Democrat.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.