GM strike, day 28: Local, international UAW seek to 'bring the power'

Kalea Hall Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers took steps over the weekend to increase the pressure on General Motors Co. to make a deal and end a four-week national strike.

"As you know, our issues are just," he said. 

Those issues include securing seniority for temporary workers, securing health care and earning higher wages, Dittes said. In a letter dated Oct. 4, Dittes said the union had "made good progress regarding the issues of health care and a path for temporary employees becoming seniority members." Two days later, however, Dittes said that negotiations had taken "a turn for the worse."

Talks between the union and the Detroit automaker paused before 10 p.m. Sunday with plans to resume in the morning. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes thanked members for "holding the line" in a video released earlier on Sunday, the 28th day of the strike.

Negotiations had continued on Sunday, after GM had reviewed a counterproposal from the UAW on Sat. A 10% increase in strike pay also went into effect on Sunday, after the union's executive board on Saturday voted to move up the increase from Jan. 1.

In Sunday's video, Dittes called the move to increase strike pay "a big step" by the board, done to show appreciation for the striking members who "bring the power to us at the negotiations table."

The $25 increase in strike pay to $275 per week is paid from the union's strike and defense fund, which totaled $721 million at the end of 2018. Striking members also can now seek part-time work outside of GM, as long as they fulfill their duties on the picket line.

Strike pay remains below top-paid production employees' base wage of $1,220 for a 40-hour week.

"When we decided to strike, that was our last resort. We were forced into that situation by General Motors," Dittes said Sunday. "We will continue this fight until we know that we can satisfy your needs of your family, all the members we represent and we can move forward and set an agenda for all workers around this country."

Meanwhile, some local leaders also are turning up the heat on GM: Nine skilled maintenance employees who take care of the boilers, and heating and cooling units at the assembly plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, walked off the job Friday evening, said Rich LeTourneau, GM chair of UAW Local 2209.

The move "means all critical and essential positions that normally stay in the plant during a strike" have left the building, LeTourneau wrote in a letter to his members on Friday.

GM spokesman David Barnas confirmed the so-called powerhouse employees in Fort Wayne and in Bowling Green, Kentucky, had joined the strike.

"But it will have no impact on the safety and security of the plant," he said in a statement.

After workers went on strike, GM stopped paying for health insurance benefits for the 46,000 striking hourly employees and put that responsibility on the union. The Detroit automaker reversed its decision and said it would pay for the costs a week and a half later. Still, it was a "cheap shot" to which LeTourneau responded by pulling powerhouse workers, he said.

"It was not an easy decision to make," LeTourneau told The Detroit News. "I am trying to put pressure on GM to come to the table in good faith and bargain with the international union." A four-week strike "is a little extreme. We can handle it, but hey, now it's time to pull out all your arsenal."

LeTourneau said he hopes other local union leaders join him in pulling their powerhouse employees. Leaders at UAW Local 2164 in Kentucky could not be reached Sunday for comment.

Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the international union, said the decision is a local issue.

Detroit resident Jay Hawkins, left, and Flint resident Damien Moore picket outside of General Motors' Flint Paint Facility during the nationwide UAW strike against General Motors on Monday in Flint, Mich. Hawkins has 12 years in at the Flint Assembly Plant, while Moore has 11 months in as a temporary worker.

Talks continued between GM and the UAW after the Detroit automaker reviewed a counterproposal that the union submitted to GM on Friday night.

The union's proposal is a counter to the offer GM made on Monday, which the automaker said included higher wages, secured the union's health care benefits and gave temporary employees a path to permanent employment.

The union's counterproposal included "all of your outstanding proposals that are at the main table and unsettled," Dittes wrote in a letter to local union leaders Friday. He said the parties would have a tentative agreement if GM had accepted it.

The UAW-GM strike isn't the only strike the union has going as it works through the negotiation process with two other companies: Aramark Corp. and Mack Trucks Inc.

The UAW's members employed by Aramark, which provides maintenance at five GM facilities — Hamtramck, Warren, Flint, Grand Blanc and Parma, Ohio. The about 850 Aramark union members have been on strike since Sept. 15.

More than 3,600 UAW members employed by Mack Trucks walked off the job Sunday over issues including wage increases, job security, wage progression and health and safety issues. 

General Motors' Flint Assembly Plant employees line the street with picket signs in Flint on Monday.

Mack Trucks manufactures heavy-duty Class 8 trucks, engines and transmissions. The company has plants in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Middletown, Pennsylvania; Hagerstown, Maryland; Baltimore, Maryland; and Jacksonville, Florida.

“UAW members get up every day and put in long, hard hours of work from designing to building Mack trucks,” said Ray Curry, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the union's Heavy Truck Department, in a statement Sunday. “UAW members carry on their shoulders the profits of Mack and they are simply asking for dignity, fair pay and job protections.”

The company had no intentions of closing any of its plants in the United States even as it continues to compete against companies that do business in lower-cost countries, Mack Trucks President Martin Weissburg said in a statement issued Saturday. He noted that the company has invested more than $400 million in U.S. plants and its logistics network over the last decade. 

In response to the union's decision to strike, Weissburg said the company was "surprised and disappointed that the UAW decided to strike, rather than to allow our employees to keep building trucks and engines while the parties continued to negotiate. The positive working relationship between local UAW leadership and management at our facilities was clearly in evidence throughout the negotiations, and progress was being made."

Twitter: @bykaleahall