GM strike, day 24: Talks continue after downbeat note from UAW

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Job security is at the center of negotiations between General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers, locked in a nationwide strike that continued into its 24th day Wednesday.

The union on Wednesday night had yet to respond to an offer by GM, which UAW Vice President Terry Dittes discussed in a letter sent to local presidents and chairpersons.

"Economic gains in this agreement will mean nothing without job security," Dittes wrote Tuesday evening. "Collectively, we are fighting for a middle-class way of life."

The national strike against GM has cost the automaker, GM suppliers and thousands of line workers millions of dollars.

UAW GM and Aramark Local 160 active members and one retiree picket in front of Gate 11 at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Saturday, October 5, 2019.

The Detroit News reported Tuesday the two sides had been focusing on core economic issues in their labor talks. One of those was wage increases. Both sides had exchanged proposals. But Dittes' Tuesday evening letter to membership took a grave tone.

There was "little progress to report" in the way of product allocation guarantees from GM, Dittes wrote. 

"The lack of commitment by GM to our UAW-GM locations has weighed heavily on all of us trying to get the best contract for you and your families," Dittes wrote. "We have openly told GM that we do not see a solid commitment to this talented and skilled workforce that has made them billions of dollars in profits."

GM has 33 manufacturing sites in the U.S. and four manufacturing sites in Mexico. GM has 16,000 hourly employees in Mexico compared to 46,000 in the U.S. 

When the UAW said on Sept. 15 that its members at GM would go on strike, GM revealed details of the offer it had proposed to the union two hours before the contract deadline. It included the creation of 5,400 jobs and an investment of $7 billion into eight facilities, including for a new electric truck and a new battery-cell manufacturing facility.

The truck would go to the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, which is set to be without a product in January; the battery-cell plant would be built in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley, site of the recently idled Lordstown Assembly Plant. GM has a deal to sell the Ohio plant to Lordstown Motors Corp., an affiliate of electric-truck startup Workhorse Group Inc.

Meanwhile, more than 100 automotive supplier companies have enacted some form of temporary layoffs, affecting up to 12,000 salaried and hourly employees in the United States.

And the contract talks are taking place under the cloud of an ongoing federal investigation into the top ranks of the UAW. The Detroit News reported Wednesday another piece of the ongoing sweeping federal investigation into UAW corruption. 

Federal agents are investigating whether Detroit automakers indirectly paid through jointly operated national training centers to build a lakefront home for retired UAW President Dennis Williams at the union's northern Michigan resort. The Detroit News reported earlier this week that all three Detroit automakers and the UAW were looking to negotiate to at least restructure the way those training centers were funded and operated.

As the strike stretches on, it's expected to more greatly impact the economy in southeast Michigan and the Midwest region. GM workers will have missed out on a month of wages as their pay was cut to $250 per week while on strike. East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group estimated Wednesday that the strike has impacted some 150,000 workers in the auto industry.

After three weeks of the strike, the economic group anticipates the 25,000 salaried GM workers could see wages affected. Through Oct. 6, the group estimates GM has lost $660 million in profits; employees have lost $412 million in wages; there's been $155 million lost in federal tax revenue; and the state of Michigan lost $9.1 million in tax revenue.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Staff writer Kalea Hall contributed