GM strike, day 8: 1,200 more layoffs as walkout enters week two

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. has laid off another 1,200 workers in the U.S. and Canada as a national strike by the United Auto Workers entered its second week.

The automaker confirmed Monday that the temporary layoffs it had warned about Friday could come had indeed gone through. GM notified 525 employees at the DMax Ltd. plant in Moraine, Ohio, that it will not be producing engines for the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks there starting Monday.

Tim Stannard, front left, president of United Auto Workers Local 1853, talks with striking workers at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. A judge on Monday issued a temporary restraining order to prevent striking workers from blocking access to the facility. GM had submitted a complaint stating picketers had prevented access to the plant, placed screws and nails on the roadway, threatened motorists and damaged vehicles.

DMax is a joint venture with Isuzu Diesel Services of America Inc. Its employees are members of the industrial division of the Communications Workers of America, the IUE-CWA — not the UAW — and are therefore not striking. The engines they produce go to Flint Assembly, where workers are picketing.

The automaker also laid off 700 employees at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant in Ontario as it slowed production there. The Monday layoffs follow those that came last week, including a group of 700 GM employees who assemble vehicles at the Oshawa Assembly plant in Ontario. Canadian workers are represented by a different labor union which is not on strike.

Contract negotiations ended shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. Neither side has issued any updates on progress since Thursday. The strike is the UAW's longest against GM since 1970, with 46,000 UAW members on picket lines around the country.

Meantime, at GM's Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee, a judge on Monday issued a temporary restraining order to prevent striking workers from blocking access to the facility.

The Detroit automaker submitted Sunday a complaint stating that picketers had prevented access to the plant, stopped traffic around the facility, placed screws and nails on the roadway, threatened motorists and damaged vehicles.

"We recognize the right of our employees to engage in lawful protests during the strike, but the safety and security of the public and our employees are our highest priority," GM spokesman Jim Cain said in a statement. "After dialogue failed to stop the incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism by a few people, we had to take necessary actions to protect everyone involved."

The order restrains UAW members for blocking access to the Spring Hill facility, from stopping or harassing vehicles on the roads around the site and from obstructing public roadways to the plant.

"GM LLC has demonstrated specific facts showing that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result if the temporary restraining order is not entered," J. Russell Parkes, the chancery court judge in Maury County, wrote in the order.

A photo of an SUV with a dented hood and  cracked windshield was submitted to a judge in Tennessee by GM as part of a complaint about damage done by striking workers at the Spring Hill Assembly Plant.  The judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent strikers from blocking access to the facility.

Picketers have placed screws and nails on the roadway leading to the plant in several instances endangering passing vehicles and pedestrians, according to GM. In another instance, picketers surrounded the vehicle of an Alabama woman who was traveling with her child with cerebral palsy who experiences seizures, and smashed two windows and kicked in a fender on the Ford Flex SUV, according to the complaint. An arrest was made Saturday.

Strikers have formed roadblocks preventing non-striking employees and contractors from entering and exiting the plant, according to the company.

The UAW's Rothenberg said the union will continue to work with law enforcement as issues arise.

“Across the country, more than 48,000 UAW members, their families, friends, and neighbors are peacefully exercising their right to picket in support of the Union’s strike for better wages, quality affordable health care, and job security," he said in a statement. "We are committed to conducting all strike-related activities safely and lawfully."

County sheriff's deputies on Wednesday arrested nine UAW members, including Local 1853 President Tim Stannard, for standing in the roadway at the south entrance of the plant and prevent vehicles from entering and leaving the property, according to local ABC affiliate WKRN. Stannard did not immediately respond with comment when contacted.

Deputies arrested a tenth person, who was not on strike, last week for reckless driving after charging through the entrance to the plant, The Tennessean newspaper reported. It was not the SUV that was damaged in the complaint, Cain said.

Outside GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant on Monday, Lamont Young, chaplain at UAW Local 22, checked in union members who were putting in their picket time. The stakes are high, he said, but spirits hadn't dwindled after a week.

“Right now, we can’t do anything but keep the faith and hope everything is going well,” he said. “Us as the middle class, we know how important this is. You haven’t seen a real strike in a long time, and now you know what this is about.”

He said membership knew it was a possibility the strike would last more than a couple of days. But he said UAW-GM employees striking around the country are out on picket lines to fight for something bigger than themselves. 

“It’s not just about us,” Young said. Those striking GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant are demanding the plant remain open and operating, despite plans for it to be stripped of any production in January. “I don’t want to see another blight in this neighborhood. It’s not just about me.”

Following the announcement of the strike on Sept. 15, GM released details of what it had offered to the UAW. The offer included allocating an electric pickup truck to the plant that straddles the border of Detroit and Hamtramck.

Strikers could start to feel the financial burden of the impasse soon. 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, which is about $630 per week.

Experts have wildly differing estimates on how much the strike is costing GM. Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group consulting firm estimated the first week would result in losses of about $25 million total. Wall Street analysts forecasted it would cost $50 million or more per day. Effects to the supply chain are expected to cost the economy millions more.

GM's stock has dropped about 5% since before the UAW announced the strike on Sept. 15.

The talks that resumed Monday followed a "Solidarity Sunday" that brought out hundreds of supporters to the picket lines, including Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who visited Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke with picketers at Fairfax Assembly in Kansas.

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