Spotlight on Autoworker in Obama’s Latest Ad

May 10, 2012 3:24pm

Republicans are trying to chip away at President Obama’s success with the auto industry by bringing attention to a battery maker that took stimulus money and then laid off workers.

A new ad by Obama tells the story of Brian Slagle, an autoworker in Ohio who says he was laid off and “scared to death” until the president swooped in to save the industry.

“Obama stuck his neck out for us, the auto industry,” Slagle says in the ad. “He wasn’t going to let it just die, and I’m driving in this morning because of that, because of him.”

The Toledo Blade reported today that a Facebook page under Slagle’s name says that the auto-parts worker is an employee at Johnson Controls, a company based in Milwaukee that makes car batteries. The Republican National Committee notes that Johnson Controls got $299 million from the stimulus to make batteries. But after getting the money, the company built just one factory instead of two. The Washington Post reported that “because of lower-than-projected demand,” only the first was built and it’s at half capacity.

The government fined Johnson Controls for “exposing employees to higher than permissible levels of lead.” And, in early April, the company laid off an unannounced number of workers to cut costs, after it reported weak results from January.

Slagle couldn’t be reached by phone today. Frank Benenati, an Obama campaign spokesman, responded to the RNC’s effort to make the ad seem illegitimate with this quote:

“The simple fact is that one in eight Ohioans, including Brian, have jobs supported by the American auto industry that President Obama stepped in to save. Brian’s story would have been much different if Mitt Romney had his way and let Detroit to go bankrupt. As much as Romney tries to Etch-a-Sketch his stance on the auto rescue, his position would have devastated the industry, including thousands of parts manufacturers throughout the supply chain, sacrificing Brian’s job and countless others across Ohio and the Midwest.”

Democrats point to recent news reports that say Johnson Controls has expanded and added jobs around the country, and that even Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, claimed to have helped create jobs at the company.

The auto bailout is one of the tug-of-wars playing out in industrial swing states. Obama’s campaign has made the resurgence of the industry a pillar of its argument to re-elect the president, while Mitt Romney has awkwardly said he deserves credit because he wrote an op-ed headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and he says Obama eventually “took them through bankruptcy.”

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