GM strike, day 15: Temps a sticking point as talks continue

Kalea Hall Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers and General Motors Co. were back in negotiations Monday on day 15 of a national strike against the Detroit automaker — and a major sticking point for the negotiations seems to be the automaker's use of temporary workers.

UAW Region 1A Director Chuck Browning told members picketing outside GM's powertrain plant in Romulus on Sunday afternoon that negotiators are "dealing with the same thing" they were dealing with more than two weeks ago.

UAW Region 1A Director Chuck Browning told picketers outside GM's powertrain plant in Romulus on Sunday that negotiators are trying to "take care of the temps."

"We’ve been telling the company you got temporary workers and they’re working full-time for years, they need to be full-time employees," Browning told a group gathered outside the plant. "You need to give us language that prevents that from happening from this point going on." 

A UAW member posted a video of Browning's nine-minute appearance on Facebook.

The UAW and GM have said for months that temporary workers would be a contentious issue in the 2019 negotiations. The UAW argues that the Detroit Three misuse line workers with that "temporary" designation by using them as though they are full-time employees.

They're meant to be employees who fill in when someone's absent, the UAW has said. Temporary workers make up less than 10% of each of the Detroit Three's total UAW workforce.

Browning said negotiators are also pushing for investment in U.S. plants, better product allocation and to keep health care costs low for employees. But he circled back to the temporary workers several times.

"Your national negotiators every morning, every afternoon, every night, they're saying take care of the temps," Browning said.

Talks ended between just after 9 p.m. Sunday. Spokesmen for both GM and the UAW said negotiators were back at the "main table" as both sides inch closer to a tentative agreement.

Negotiations ended Saturday around 7 p.m., the earliest discussions had been tabled for a night since negotiations moved out of subcommittees. Negotiators finished talks at around 10:15 p.m. Friday after discussions the previous day stretched to 2 a.m. 

The 46,000 GM-UAW members on strike start collecting their strike checks of up to $250 today. Strike pay is taxed after $600, but taxes are not deducted from the checks. Members pay taxes later when they claim strike pay on their tax returns.

In comparison to strike pay, the starting wage for temporary production employees at GM is $15.78 per hour, which is about $630 per week. Top-paid production employees, however, earn $30.46 per hour, or about $1,218 per week. 

The strike at some 55 GM facilities around the U.S. is sending shock waves and layoffs through the automotive supply chain, causing GM to lose millions each day.

GM has had to lay off more than 3,600 employees in Ohio, Ontario and Mexico because of the strike. Specifically, GM laid off 525 employees at the DMax Ltd. plant in Moraine, Ohio; 700 employees at its St. Catharines Propulsion Plant in Ontario; 2,000 employees at the Oshawa Assembly plant in Ontario; and 450 employees at an engine plant in Silao, Mexico.

It's unclear if a tentative agreement would send UAW members back to work. Members could remain off the job for several more days if local union leaders decide to wait to end the national strike until after membership ratification of the contract. The walkout already is the longest against GM since 1970.

The strike is the UAW's first since the Great Recession and GM's bankruptcy in 2009. Now entering its third week, it has left a lasting economic impact, experts have said.

Twitter: @bykaleahall