GM strike, day 26: UAW counters, says 'we will have a Tentative Agreement'

Kalea Hall Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers submitted a counterproposal Friday night to General Motors Co., responding to a contract offer the automaker made Monday.

The offer included "all of your outstanding proposals that are at the main table and unsettled," UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a letter to local union leaders. If GM accepts, "we will have a Tentative Agreement," he wrote.

Dittes said union representatives would work through the weekend in hopes of reaching a settlement to end a nationwide strike by 46,000 workers that is nearing the one month mark. His letter did not disclose any of the proposal's terms.

A GM spokesman said the company did not expect to respond to the UAW offer Friday evening. 

The proposal comes after GM CEO Mary Barra and Gerald Johnson, GM's executive vice president of global manufacturing, met Wednesday with UAW President Gary Jones and DIttes. The meeting was an attempt to jump-start negotiations after talks between the automaker and the union had stalled.

At that meeting, Barra "emphasized the need to get a comprehensive response from the union as soon as possible," GM Vice President of Labor Relations Scott Sandefur said in a letter to Dittes Thursday night.

Dittes had said in a statement Thursday night that the union agreed to have committees work on issues until they could submit a comprehensive proposal. Committees include those addressing the training center and the future of work for UAW members.

GM's latest offer to the UAW included $2 billion more in investment by the company than an offer it made four weeks ago.

In total, GM would commit to $9 billion worth of direct and indirect investments. Of that, $7.7 billion would be direct investments, including building an electric truck at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. That factory is among four GM facilities in the U.S. that were to be idled. In the 2015 contract, GM had pledged $8.3 billion in investments.

The offer also includes increases in employee compensation, as well as retaining health care coverage and creating a pathway for temporary employees to become permanent, according to a letter GM sent Friday to hourly and salaried employees. No specifics were given.

In an escalating war of words Friday, the union responded with a strong statement saying at every step in negotiations GM "has attempted to undermine the ongoing, good-faith efforts the UAW has made to end this strike." 

"The company’s strategy from day one has been to play games at the expense of the workers. It has released half-truths, ripped away health care in the middle of the night and it reverted to previously weak and unacceptable proposals in response to the UAW’s comprehensive solutions. Our members are ready to get back to work, but GM is purposefully stalling the process to starve UAW-GM workers off the picket lines to protect millions of dollars of corporate bonuses." 

The union later released a video in which Dittes said: "Let me be clear that the company’s strategy of releasing half-truths does nothing to reach a final settlement for you and your families."

In response to the UAW's criticism, Tony Cervone, senior vice president of global communications for GM, said: "The goal of our communication has been to inform – not incite. We will continue to provide information in a straightforward, and importantly, factual way.”

In a letter to workers Friday, GM said its offer to the UAW would increase employee compensation, retain health care coverage and create a pathway for temporary employees to become permanent.

GM bargainers have urged the union to engage in around-the-clock bargaining on all issues to get an agreement done as 46,000 GM employees headed toward a 27th day on the picket lines Saturday.

Lost wages for all employees as a result of the strike is expected to be in excess of $624 million through Sunday, according to the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group. GM will have lost $1.13 billion in profits.

But GM has the cash and inventory  to contend with a strike of this duration, Bruce Clark, senior vice president of Moody's Investors Service, said in a note Friday. GM, he said, needs to make an agreement that preserves its operating flexibility and supports its investment into autonomous electric vehicles, especially as foreign automakers operating in the U.S. already on average pay $13 less in total labor costs than GM and fewer vehicles are sold in the U.S.

"It is critical," Clark wrote, "that any new UAW contract not allow that gap to widen since it already results in more than $1 billion per year in higher costs (and lower profits) for GM."

Twitter: @bykaleahall