GM strike, day 7: Warren says UAW holding GM 'accountable'

More than 100 United Auto Workers pickets on Sunday crowded the main gates at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant when Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren visited to condemn General Motors Co. for its lack of "loyalty" as the national strike against the Detroit automaker extended into its seventh day.

"These workers from the UAW are here to hold GM accountable," said Warren, a senator from Massachusetts. "GM made billions of dollars in profits last year and then closed five plants ... GM is demonstrating that it has no loyalty to the workers of America or the people of America. Their only loyalty is to their bottom line."

Senator Elizabeth Warren talks with members of the press after walking with GM UAW members and supporters on the picket line at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant on day seven of the labor dispute strike on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019 in Hamtramck.

Negotiations between the UAW and the Detroit automaker resumed Sunday morning and were expected to continue Monday. The parties are seeking to find common ground on issues such as health care, wages and permanent job security for temporary workers.

UAW President Gary Jones on Friday asked the public to join pickets for what he called "Solidarity Sunday." Local union chaplains also were on the picket lines Sunday for words of support.

As the strike of 46,000 hourly UAW members has continued for a week now, it has attracted more attention from leading Democratic presidential candidates. In addition to Warren's visit Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden was expected at Fairfax Assembly in Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday afternoon.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender, is expected to stop at Detroit-Hamtramck on Wednesday should the strike persist. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited pickets at the plant Thursday.

Senator Elizabeth Warren walks alongside GM UAW members and supporters on the picket line at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

Warren joined the gathering outside the plant that straddles the border of Detroit and Hamtramck at about 12:30 p.m. She immediately exited the SUV and grabbed a sign to march with the crowd dressed in red and T-shirts saying "I am a Warren Democrat" and "Warren has a plan for that."

Warren during her visit condemned GM for building product in countries such as Mexico with cheaper labor. She credited unions for creating the middle class and said they would rebuild it, too.

"The workers of the UAW are here to say no more," she said. "They want contracts here that keeps these jobs in America. They want a fair wage. They want benefits. They want what it takes to be a part of America's middle class. And they want the same for themselves and for temporary workers. Everybody deserves a living wage in this country. When unions win, all American workers win."

GM declined to comment. The U.S. has 30 allocated manufacturing sites compared to Mexico's four and has 30,000 more employees. Mexico builds six nameplates that are sold in the United States.

It was the sign of Sterling Heights' Nikki Smith that Warren asked to hold as she marched. "(GM CEO) Mary Barra makes $11,400/hour and owns at least 1,060,594 units of GM stock," the sign said. "Share the wealth.”

Smith said it was a wake-up message.

Nikki Smith, 46, of Sterling Heights, left, talks with Senator Elizabeth Warren, while GM UAW members and supporters walk the picket line.

"Wake up to the disparity in the distribution of wealth in our country," said Smith, an office worker at the UAW Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit. "Mary Barra cut off insurance benefits when the premiums were paid off through the end of the month — that’s spiteful.”

When UAW members went on strike, GM stopped paying for their health care. The union is paying for medical and prescription coverage while the employees are not working.

Warren's visit coincided with Karen Beals' return to Detroit-Hamtrack. Beals, 53, of Howell worked at the plant for more than two decades but accepted a transfer to Flint Assembly after GM announced Detroit-Hamtramck would be "unallocated" in June; it got an extension to January.

GM, however, on Sept. 15 revealed details of the plan it had offerd to UAW leaders that included producing an electric truck at Detroit-Hamtramck.

“I didn’t want to (transfer),” said Beals, who moved from Macomb County's Metro Beach to Livingston County to be closer to work. “But I didn’t want to get shipped out. We were under the impression they were closing ... After 22 years, I wanted to retire here."

GM UAW members and supporters  at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant on day seven of the labor dispute strike on Sunday in Hamtramck.

Labor talks had gone into the evening on Saturday and were expected to continue all day Sunday. Neither side has issued any updates on progress since Thursday.

In the next week, strikers could start to feel the financial burden of the strike. Hourly employees received their paychecks from GM for the previous week's work on Friday, UAW members said. 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.

Experts have had differing amounts for how much the strike is costing GM. Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group consulting firm estimated it to be about $2 million per day and growing to about $16 million by Friday. Wall Street analysts forecast it will cost $50 million or more per day. Effects to the supply chain are expected to cost the economy millions more. 

Twitter: @bykaleahall