General Motors UAW strike may be more complicated than wages and benefits

For the first time since General Motors declared bankruptcy and was reorganized under the federal bailout a decade ago, the 46,000 GM employees represented by the United Auto Workers have walked out on strike. While negotiations are still underway, their atmosphere is being described as acrimonious, and GM has responded by publicly releasing details of its offers to the union, something not usually done during labor talks. Included in those details are tentative plans to reopen the recently shuttered Lordstown, Ohio and Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plants as part of the automaker’s electrification plans.

The negotiations come as the giant automaker is moving to electrify much of its fleet and at the same time that the UAW is facing a federal investigation and scandal over officials taking bribes and misusing union funds.

Ray Atherton, a GM truck driver who works at the Flint Assembly Plant, told The Detroit News, “This is my third one,” said Atherton, referring to the walkout. “In ’98, we were out for 56 days. I hope it doesn’t go that long.”

One issue under negotiation is the two-tiered wage scale that the UAW agreed to during GM’s restructuring that pays newly hired employees less than veteran auto workers.

The Teamsters union said that its members, who drive the haulaway trucks that deliver a large percentage of new cars to dealers, would honor the UAW’s picket lines.

After the UAW walked out, in an unusual move, GM provided an outline of its negotiating position to the media, saying that it offered to make over $7 billion in manufacturing investments and create more than 5400 positions for UAW members. Also included in the offer are increased base wages, lump-sum bonuses, and additional health care benefits. Both The Detroit News and Automotive News are reporting that included in the proposed contract are plans to revive Detroit-Hamtramck as the assembly location for the electrified pickup truck the automaker is developing and Lordstown as a battery factory. That would make Lordstown the first GM facility with UAW representation to assemble EV batteries.

Flint Assembly Duramax Diesel Engine

In a statement released on Sunday, GM said, “We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways and it is disappointing that the UAW leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight. We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business.”

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, in a letter to GM, said that the union was disappointed that the company did not make its first “serious offer” until just before the previous contract expired on Saturday evening at midnight.

Negotiators may not be too far from a deal, as Dittes indicated that had General Motors put the same offer on the table earlier, the two parties might have come to an agreement by now. Coming to an agreement would only be the first step in ending the strike, though. Getting the rank and file union membership to approve the contract may prove to be difficult because of the ongoing investigation into corruption at high levels of the UAW. Members may be skeptical that leadership is genuinely representing their interests.

The last time the UAW called a national strike against a U.S. automaker was in 2007, when the union walked off the job at GM for just two days. Besides the GM employees striking, 850 UAW members at Aramark Corp, which provides janitorial services for five GM sites, are also on strike.

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