FCA, UAW shift ‘hunting’ holiday to honor veterans
The extended Veterans Day holiday weekend in November — a tradition many United Auto Workers members since the late 1990s have used to kick off deer hunting season — appears to be coming to an end this year in favor of celebrating on the actual federal holiday.
As part of a new four-year contract with the UAW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s 40,000 UAW members will be off on Nov. 11 — the national day of observance. That’s instead of a Friday or Monday around the federal holiday that correspond to the start of Michigan’s firearm deer hunting season — this year Nov. 15-30.
The holiday falls on a Wednesday this year. Over the next three years it falls on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so Fiat Chrysler members will end up with a three-day weekend anyway.
It appears others also could change to honor veterans. General Motors Co. and the union have discussed “a mutual desire to move to a federal holiday,” GM spokesman Pete Ternes said.
Details of the tentative agreement GM reached for its 52,700 U.S. hourly UAW members are expected to be shared Wednesday if the UAW National GM Council approves the deal. Ratification information meetings and voting on the deal, reached late Sunday night to avoid a strike, will follow.
The UAW and automakers have an observed Veterans Day holiday since the 1990s. The companies gave the workers a day off around the weekend kicking off firearm deer season, partly to help ensure it did not have staffing problems in the plants since so many autoworkers also hunted.
“FCA US has a long history of supporting our military and was very supportive of the request to pay tribute to those who have served on the same day as the rest of the nation,” Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said in an emailed statement.
Ken Mefford, a Gulf War Army veteran and 20-year worker at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren Truck Assembly Plant, said it’s “greatly appreciated” that the company will honor veterans on the actual holiday.
“I’m for it. I can’t observe my own holiday,” said Mefford, 53, who served four years active and two years Army Reserve. “This way, you can actually observe the holiday on the holiday.”
GM and Ford Motor Co. UAW members this year will be off on Nov. 16, a Monday.
Arthur R. Schwartz, president of Labor and Economics Associates and a former labor negotiator at GM, recalled the troubles GM factories faced before they had the observed Veterans Day holiday at the kickoff of deer hunting season.
“There was high absenteeism,” he said. “The plants were woefully understaffed on that Friday. So the feeling was ‘OK, we’ll just give you the day off.’ ”
Schwartz said he expects Fiat Chrysler is ready to manage the change and likely has an absentee pool of workers from which to draw. He said Fiat Chrysler employees may opt now to use a one-day vacation day — new in this four-year pact — to take off for deer hunting.
GM recently reached an agreement with the union that locked in the Nov. 16 date as their Veterans Day holiday.
The Detroit automaker has given hourly workers a Monday or Friday around Veterans Day off since 1999, a GM spokesman said.
This year, there was some uncertainty for a few reasons. First, GM and Ford hourly UAW members are working under contract extensions with the UAW since their four-year deals expired Sept. 14. While there was a tentative date on calendars for Veterans Day and plans for plant production schedules, holidays had not been made official.
Ternes said GM and the union are considering moving the day off to correspond with federal Veterans Day holiday in future years. GM employs thousands of veterans and has been supportive in hiring veterans.
“That discussion has happened here, but they didn’t want to have any confusion” this year, Ternes said. GM felt it would be insufficient notice to change the holiday this year.
Ford workers also will have Nov. 16 off this year after setting the date officially this week, spokeswoman Kristina Adamski confirmed. The UAW is set to talk with Ford next on its four-year deal. But the holiday schedules for the three companies are usually very similar, if not the same.
Phil Buchkowski, a hunter and entry-level worker at Ford’s Sterling Axle plant in Sterling Heights, said the holiday should be observed on Veterans Day so those who served their country can participate in ceremonies and events without using a vacation day.
“It’s nice that they observe the holiday and move it (around), but the holiday day is the holiday day,” he said. “If they’re going to observe it, do it on the actual holiday.”
Buchkowski, a hunter of 30 years, said while the opening of firearm season is “like a national holiday” in Michigan, he can save vacation days for it.
UAW President Dennis Williams, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was not available to comment on the change in holiday for Veterans Day.
He has previously said supporting veterans is “a year-round obligation.”
“From a variety of organized activities ranging from collecting and donating items for those who live in Veterans Homes to simply taking time on any day of the year to remember and acknowledge the hard sacrifices they’ve made, UAW members are there for veterans,” Williams said in a statement for Veterans Day in 2014. “We always have been and always will be committed to our veterans, and we’re rightfully proud of that.”
UAW local chapters are mandated by the union’s constitution to have veterans’committees.