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GM strike Day 2: Negotiations to resume

Detroit — The United Auto Workers' national strike of General Motors Co. entered its second day Tuesday as the two sides were set to resume contract negotiations by mid-morning.

More: Everything you need to know about the UAW strike and corruption scandal

Some of the energy seen on picket lines in Detroit on Monday had subsided by 8 a.m. Tuesday. The number of picketers outside GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant had shrunk from the dozens who were seen there Monday.

The two sides are battling over wages, health care costs, job security and seniority for temporary workers as a widening federal criminal investigation into union corruption continues, implicating senior union leaders, including UAW President Gary Jones.

"It’s a very good sign if they are still talking," said Marick Masters, business professor and former director of labor studies at Wayne State University. "The makings of a deal are there if the will is there."

The nationwide strike of 55 GM facilities, begun at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, is expected to cost the Detroit automaker more than $50 million a day, according to Credit Suisse Group AG. And members manning pickets said they don't expect the strike to end soon.

The walkout at GM is the union's first since 2007 and the first since the automaker emerged from its taxpayer-funded bankruptcy a decade ago. Driving the walkout is the automaker's plan to move toward closing four U.S. plants — a threat GM withdrew with its plans to continue operating its Detroit-Hamtramck plant and to build a battery-cell plant in northeast Ohio. 

"I don’t think they would have gone on strike if they were close," said Colin Lightbody, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor negotiator and president of HR and Labor Guru Inc., a consulting firm. "I think it would take some time to get through these issues. I do believe there’s going to have to be some give and take."

Added Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Ann-Arbor based Center for Automotive Research:  "The ingredients appear to be there for a short strike ... but we don’t know what the must-haves are from both sides. That’s where you can get into this lasting a lot longer."

UAW workers at GM Hamtramck Assembly plant walk the picket line in front of the plant Monday morning.

Asked about the possibility of federal mediation Monday, President Donald Trump said: "Federal mediation's always possible, if that's what they want. Hopefully they'll be able to work out the GM strike quickly."

Doris Parnell, who retired in 2008 after 31 years, was walking Monday outside the main gate at the automaker's Detroit-Hamtramck plant. She said she hopes the strike is resolved quickly because "people have children" ... they have mortgages."

The UAW is demanding better wages, job security, and benefits, among other things, and GM says it offered as much. UAW leadership said early Monday that, had it received GM's "first serious offer" sooner than two hours before the Saturday contract deadline, a strike might have been averted. 

Everything you need to know about the UAW strike and corruption scandal

The group of autoworkers that marched along the sidewalk in front of the Detroit-Hamtramck Plant on Harper just before 7 a.m. Monday carried green and white and red “UAW on strike” signs. Drivers passing on the Interstate 94 service drive honked as more UAW members walked up to join the line.

The uncertainty over how long the labor dispute will go on is tough, Parnell said: “The only thing we can do is stay prayerful and lift our leadership up in prayer that we’re going to survive this strike and we’re going to have solidarity forever."

Ted Williams, 61, of Detroit, left, a 40-year GM employee, and Chuck Wise, 46, of Detroit, a 19-year employee,at the Hamtramck Assembly plant, walk the picket in front of the main entrance Monday morning.

"Ultimately, we’re just trying to get back what we’ve lost during the last couple of concessionary contracts," said Celso Duque, a 22-year GM employee. "We’re trying to secure our future for the younger generations, trying to make sure our retirees still have benefits and that I’m able to retire once I get to that age."

Duque, who works in the plant’s body shop, said he and his coworkers "gave up a lot" in the labor agreements of 2007, 2011 and 2015 and the company continues to do well. He said the strike isn’t just about protecting the future of GM’s workers, and he is not expecting a quick end.

"The way it’s looking right now, it’s going to go on for a while," he said. "This is not going to be like a two-day strike like we had in 2007."

UAW workers picket on the south side of the GM Lake Orion Assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan, early Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.

David Michael, the spokesman for Local 5960 that represents just under 1,000 workers at the plant, said while the union has “made strides“ on the issue of the two-tier system for new hires, the company needs to give permanent work status to temporary workers.

Some temporary workers have been working as long as four to five years, Michael said as he held a picket sign in Lake Orion. Michael said there are about 4,000 temporary workers nationwide, including 30 at the Orion Assembly plant.

“Without a path to future permanent employment, how can (workers) buy a house ... buy a car?” he asked.

Health care, added Michael, is “always an issue.”

Michael said “we hope” the strike is not a long one. 

“We have great respect and confidence in the UAW bargaining team. We have sacrificed more to get GM to the position they’re in today and out of bankruptcy,” he said.

GM put the Hamtramck plant on notice last year when the automaker announced plans to "unallocate" it along with four others as it killed products made in those facilities.  

That put the future unclear for the plant covering 360 acres on the Detroit-Hamtramck border in part of a Detroit neighborhood. In the early 1980s, the city of Detroit and state of Michigan used eminent domain laws to force out thousands of residents from what had once been a predominantly Polish neighborhood and demolish homes, businesses and churches to build a new plant. 

In its offer to the UAW, GM said it would pump new product into Detroit-Hamtramck, in addition to more than $7 billion in plant investments over the life of the new contract. It said it would create more than 5,400 jobs, boost base wages, pay lump-sum bonuses, improve benefits — and rescue its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant from closure and build a new battery plant near the idled Lordstown plant in northeast Ohio.

"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," the automaker said in a statement Sunday. "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."

Meantime, UAW members will see pay cut by more than half during the strike while leadership at the company and the union play what experts have called a "high-stakes game of chicken." Rank-and-file UAW members will see strike pay of $250 per week. By comparison, the top production wage at GM is about $30 per hour, or $1,200 per week.

The UAW has a $721 million-plus strike fund. If all 46,000 workers received strike pay for putting in their picket time, the union would burn $11.5 million per week. That does not include health care benefits that would be paid after the first week of a strike. 

Tamara Abney, who’s worked at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant the last four years, said from the picket line that just about everyone in her family has made a living working at a GM factory. But she’s not worried about being on strike.

"It’s not scary," she said. "I’m looking for a positive outcome. We’re looking to be treated fairly at the end of all of this and time is not of the essence for that. I’m going to be here until my eyes won’t stay open anymore,” she said. “We said we’re going to strike, and we’re striking."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Detroit News Staff Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.