GM strike, day 9: Negotiations press on with no 'sense of urgency'

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the United Auto Workers national strike against General Motors Co. enters its tenth day, experts say there is little evidence negotiators are intensifying a push to reach a deal and end the walkout.

"There does not appear to be a sense of urgency at this time which suggests to me that the parties are far apart," said Colin Lightbody, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor negotiator and president of HR and Labor Guru Inc., a consulting firm. "GM and the UAW are still talking which is a good sign, but from what I understand, they are breaking off discussions at around 8 p.m. most days."

Bargaining committees expect to work into the evening, the UAW confirmed, and talks are scheduled for Wednesday. The divide at the bargaining table centers around wages, health care and securing a pathway for temporary workers to get seniority. Neither GM nor the UAW would specify what progress — if any — has been made on the issues.

But it's a good sign that the two are not negotiating in the press, says Art Wheaton, an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School. Negotiating publicly would mean that one side needs to garner public support against the other.

"The longer we don’t hear anything that means they are making progress at the table," Wheaton said. He also thinks the two sides "are far apart but working their way closer" to a tentative agreement.

On the ninth day of the strike, picketers in Pontiac were still in high spirits and optimistic about the outcome of negotiations. Top concerns include shortening the eight-year period before entry-level employees can make top wages and securing a pathway for temporary workers to get full-time employment status with full-time benefits.

Dimitrie Toth, 69, a skilled tradesman at the Pontiac propulsion plant, is hoping he doesn’t have to celebrate his 50th work anniversary on the picket line next week.

"I am optimistic about what our United Auto Workers bargainers are looking for in our contract," Toth said. "I feel very elated that we have a number of people here to support us."

The strike is the UAW's longest against GM since 1970. Strikers could start to feel the financial impact of the impasse this week. 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 differing estimates on how much the strike is costing GM. The East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group estimated the first week would result in losses of about $25 million total. Wall Street analysts forecast it would cost $50 million or more per day. 

The strike has started to affect GM facilities in Ohio and Ontario not represented by the UAW. All told more than 3,200 GM workers represented by other unions have been laid off.

GM has laid off 525 employees at the DMax Ltd. plant in Moraine, Ohio where they build engines for the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks. DMax is a joint venture with Isuzu Diesel Services of America Inc. Its employees are members of the Communications Workers of America, not the UAW.

The automaker also has laid off 700 employees at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant in Ontario and 2,000 GM employees at the Oshawa Assembly plant in Ontario. Canadian workers are represented by a different labor union, Unifor, which is not on strike.

The UAW-GM strike has brought Democratic presidential hopefuls out to picket lines to support union members. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is scheduled to join strikers at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on Wednesday.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke planned to speak to UAW members striking in West Chester Township, Ohio, on Tuesday, according to media reports. On Wednesday, he is expected to visit Lordstown in northeast Ohio where the idled Lordstown Assembly Plant is located, according to local media reports there.

On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren visited with 100 picketers at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant where she condemned GM for its lack of loyalty to its employees.

"These workers from the UAW are here to hold GM accountable," the Massachusetts Democrat said while on the picket line Sunday. "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."   

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