UAW sets strike authorization votes for GM, FCA

Michael Wayland, Melissa Burden and Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Strike authorization votes for United Auto Workers members at General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are set to take place by month’s end.

The procedural votes have been taking place for Fiat Chrysler’s 37,000 union members since at least the beginning of the month. GM’s roughly 50,800 UAW-represented workers are scheduled to vote by Aug. 27. The dates are targets for local union members to vote by. Many local unions have already voted.

“The strike vote is part of the UAW’s democratic process that occurs every contract year,” GM spokeswoman Katie McBride said in an emailed statement. “We remain committed to working with our UAW partners on an agreement that benefits employees and strengthens GM’s long-term competitiveness.”

A Ford Motor Co. spokesperson said the company has not been notified of a vote being scheduled.

The strike authorization votes give union leadership the ability to authorize a strike if negotiations stall. It does not mean there will be a strike. The current four-year contracts expire Sept. 14.

This is the first contract since GM and Chrysler emerged from post-bankruptcy government restrictions. Automakers are reporting record profits, and union leaders have made it clear they want to share in the wealth after givebacks during the 2008-09 economic downturn.

GM and Chrysler workers were prohibited from striking when the current contract was negotiated in 2011, but that restriction — required as a condition of their government bailout — has expired.

A UAW spokesperson declined to comment.

Johnny Pruitte, president of UAW Local 276 in Grand Prairie, Texas, which represents about 4,000 hourly workers from GM’s Arlington Assembly Plant, said strike votes for local and national agreements with GM are set to run for 24 hours beginning at 6 a.m. Aug. 25.

The local is encouraging members to vote yes to authorize UAW International to call a strike if necessary. GM’s Arlington plant is the automaker’s lone production source for its highly profitable full-size SUVs.

“We’re very strong here in Arlington in support of the international should a strike be called,” Pruitte said.

But Pruitte and the local and union stress that the strike vote is procedural and only means the membership supports a strike as a last resort if all attempts to reach a national or local contract fail.

“We never advocate a strike,” he said. “The best thing that all labor unions try to do is resolve the differences at the table. That’s what for negotiations are for.”

Pruitte said he has been preparing membership to save money in case a strike is called. When profit-sharing checks were issued earlier this year, Pruitte said he told members that was an excellent time to save the check so “you’d have a surplus of money to pay bills to weather a strike.”

“These are generally formalities,” said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry & Labor Group for the Center for Automotive Research. “This is the threat they hold over negotiations; withholding their labor.”

Dziczek said the votes typically pass with near 100 percent acceptance rates, and that voting no would “be like going into battle saying we’ll leave our guns at home.”