Job security, wages are sticking points for UAW
Detroit — Job security, wages and health care continue to be the major sticking points for the United Auto Workers to sign a deal with its lead company, General Motors Co.
Approximately 46,000 employees of the Detroit automaker nationally went on strike at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The move looks to up the pressure on GM to meet the union's demands that Terry Dittes, UAW vice president and director of its GM department, restated during a Sunday news conference.
But in an unprecedented move, the automaker on Sunday revealed the major points of the offer it presented to union leadership.
"It appears that GM was reaching over the head of the union leaders to directly address union members as they were about to go out, but it could prove counterproductive," said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley who studies labor issues. "I’m sure much of what was in that document they view with some skepticism."
After GM in November said it was "unallocating" all products at four U.S. plants in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland, job security became a major focus for the UAW. The union sued the automaker, claiming the move was a violation of the contract both parties signed in 2015. UAW leaders said they would fight to return GM products to the plants.
GM said Sunday it was offering $7 billion in investments, compared to $8.3 billion promised in the 2015 agreement. The automaker also said it would create 5,400 new jobs.
The offer included "solutions" to unallocated plants in Michigan and Ohio. Sources told The Detroit News that includes allocating a new electric truck to its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, which received an extension to continue producing the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala sedans until January.
The News also learned that GM offered to build a new battery-cell manufacturing site in Ohio's Mahoning Valley near Lordstown, which would be the first of its kind to be union-represented in the United States. That would cushion some of the blow to the shuttering of the Chevrolet Cruze-producing Lordstown Assembly Plant, which has been a particular point of contention for President Donald Trump.
The UAW declined to comment on GM's public offer.
Dittes said Sunday that workers wanted "fair wages" and their "share of the profits," after the automaker posted $27.5 billion in profits over the last four years. GM said employees would receive lump sum or wage increases in all four years of its newly proposed plan, though no specifics were provided.
The statement also did not address the eight-year window it takes for former tier-two workers hired in late 2007 and after to reach the top of the pay scale. That has been the source of complaint for many rank-and-file members.
"Solidarity is the very soul of the union," Shaiken said. "It's differential pay for the same work."
The deal also included an $8,000 signing bonus once workers ratify the agreement, the same amount they received in 2015. GM said its offer included an "improved" profit-sharing formula, though no further details were provided.
Sean Crawford, 37, from Flushing, 37, is a materials handler at the Flint Assembly Plant. He traveled to the Detroit-Hamtramck plant on Sunday as a show of solidarity for the plant where he once worked.
"It’s about class struggle, so absolutely," he said of the scheduled strike. "That’s what labor struggle is about. It’s about working-class people coming together to demand a fair share of the wealth they produce through their labor.
“Why don’t we ever talk about CEOs taking a pay cut, why is it that we aren’t talking about the bosses taking a pay cut? Why is it that the workers, which always do the hardest jobs and hurt their bodies every day, that have the most stressful dirty jobs take a pay cut?"
Dittes on Sunday said UAW leaders were standing for "affordable quality health care." Autoworkers pay approximately 3% of their total health care costs, while most U.S. workers pay 28%, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
GM spends about $900 million on hourly health care for approximately 48,000 employees and their 69,000 dependents covered, GM spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan previously has said.
Under the automaker's offer, workers would "retain nationally leading" health care benefits. The deal would offer new coverage for autism therapy care, chiropractic care and allergy testing.
"I think they’re trying to convey they are bargaining in good faith," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "They weren't putting big cuts or concessions on the table."