GM strike, day 6: Talks continue; Democratic candidates joining picket line

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers continued contract negotiations into the evening on the sixth day of the strike against the Detroit automaker

At 5 p.m. Saturday it appeared the two sides hadn’t reached a tentative agreement that would send UAW members back to their respective posts on GM assembly lines around the country.

A GM spokesman said Saturday evening that the two sides were still talking, but had no update to announce on progress.

Negotiations resumed Saturday morning after talks extended into the evening hours Friday, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said on Facebook that Chief of Staff Assad Turfe and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Zaineb A Hussein delivered lunch to workers on strike at the Romulus Powertrain plant today to show support and solidarity.

Chief of Staff for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Assad I. Turfe, and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Zaineb Hussein delivered lunch to the United Auto Workers at the Romulus Powertrain plant today to show support and solidarity.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential hopeful, is expected to visit the picket line at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly on Sunday afternoon. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender, is expected to stop by Wednesday should the strike persist. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who also is vying for the chief role, visited picketers at the plant Thursday.

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

UAW President Gary Jones in a letter Friday encouraged all UAW members to join the picket lines for a "Solidarity Sunday." It was his first public statement since he was implicated last week in a federal corruption investigation that has implicated the top ranks of the union and resulted in 11 individuals charged and nine convictions. Most recently, charges were filed Friday against Jeff Pietrzyk, the former top aide to UAW Vice President Joe Ashton,

The Detroit News identified Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, as unnamed union officials who allegedly participated in a years-long conspiracy that involved embezzling member dues and spending the money on personal luxuries, according to an affidavit filed with charges against Vance Pearson, Jones' successor and UAW Region 5 director. Jones and Williams have not been charged.

"I really think this strike is more related to the leadership having to show that they are in it for the people and not themselves," said Rebecca Lindland, founder of, an auto industry and reviews website. "It’s a distraction from the realities of the significant scandal that the executives are embroiled in."

On Friday, GM hourly employees received their paychecks for the previous week's work, UAW members said. In the next few days, strikers could start to feel the financial burden of the strike. Strike pay is $250 per week, but it won't be distributed until the 15th day of picketing. The starting wage for temporary production workers at GM is $15.78 per hour, or about $630 per week.

UAW Local 163 members protesting outside the Romulus Engine Plant on the sixth day of the strike Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

That totals millions per day in lost income revenue for Michigan residents and hundreds of thousands in lost income taxes for the state government. Meanwhile, GM's millions in losses grow with each passing day, despite having had 77 days of supply at dealerships at the end of August, according to Cox Automotive.

The economic effect of the strike has a greater impact as it moves up the supply chain. GM on Friday said approximately 2,000 employees in Canada at its Oshawa Assembly Plant in Ontario were laid off temporarily. GM workers in Canada are represented by a different union and are not striking. Potentially more employees in Ontario could be affected, according to Canadian labor union Unifor.

More non-UAW production employees at GM's DMax Ltd. engine plant in Moraine, Ohio, could be furloughed Monday as well.

Suppliers, including Auburn Hills-based Nexteer Automotive, have said they are laying off employees for the duration of the strike. Trucking companies have been halted from making deliveries at GM plants. Most North American supplier plants shipping product to GM are having to adjust their production schedules, according to the Original Equipment Suppliers Association.

UAW leaders have said for the 46,000 hourly employees on strike at GM they are seeking job security, a fair share of the profits, affordable health care and a path to permanent seniority for temporary members. Meanwhile, GM wants to keep its labor costs low to stay competitive at a time when uncertainty persists surrounding declining sales, trade and changes in the industry toward autonomy and electrification.

UAW Local 163 members protesting outside the Romulus Engine Plant on the sixth day of the strike Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

"We've seen a lot of cutbacks as leaders try to compete with foreign prices, but that's not right, and we won't work until we're paid right," UAW Local 163 Secretary Yolanda Jacobs said Saturday outside the Romulus engine plant. "That Chevy Blazer being made in Mexico needs to be brought back to the U.S. This is unacceptable."

Jacobs said her son is the fourth generation working alongside her at the plant and doesn't want to fear for his future. Many of the local's 1,300 members fear a recession, she said.

"It's going to trickle down," said Jacobs, who has worked for GM for 23 years. "We haven't seen a big wave in about 15 years, and it's time. We want our temps and second-tier workers and high seniority to receive what they deserve."

Fears among UAW members persist over what the future will hold. Michael Hillie, a third-generation auto employee who has built engines for GM since 2006, said he has seen an overall decrease in value of auto workers that, he believes, will continue.

"I don't want any of my kids to be the fourth generation," he said. "Since I've been here, there's only been less respect."

In a statement from GM on Sunday following the announced strike, GM provided details on its four-year offer to the union that included $7 billion in investments, 5,400 new jobs, a wage increase or lump-sum bonus each year and expanded health care coverage. The statement, however, did not address temporary employees. Keeping the Detroit-Hamtramck plant open to build an electric pickup truck was part of that offer, as was opening a plant in northeast Ohio to build battery cells.

The negotiators had made "some progress" since then, Terry Dittes, UAW vice president and GM department director, said in a letter Thursday to local leaders. He, however, added many issues "remain unresolved."