On Sept. 15, one minute before midnight EDT, production ground to a halt at all General Motors facilities across the U.S.
Workers inside the plants walked out, and midnight shift workers joined the picket line. Loud chants of “Shut it down” or “United we stand, divided we fall” filled the night air outside some plants.
Earlier that day about 200 United Auto Workers local presidents and bargaining chairs voted unanimously to stop work if no agreement was reached. A UAW press release announced that “the membership is going on strike at midnight Sunday to secure: fair wages, affordable healthcare, our share of profits, job security, a defined path to permanent seniority for temps.”
Spirits on the line were strong outside the GM stamping plant in Parma, a suburb of Cleveland. The plant bargaining chair explained that a key issue was the company demanding workers pay thousands more per year for health care: “If a robot breaks, they pay to fix it. They work us like robots. They break us, they should pay to fix us.”
Hoping to win the strike in the field of public opinion, GM issued a statement saying they “presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways.” (clickondetroit.com, Sept. 15) However, the small pay increases the company was willing to grant would be more than gobbled up by the dramatic increase in worker health care costs.
Another sticking point is GM’s plans for two assembly plants and two transmission plants; last year workers learned those plants would be closed. In the company’s offer, the Warren, Mich., and the Baltimore, Md., transmission plants would remain closed while only a small number of jobs would open up in the plants in Lordstown, Ohio, and Detroit-Hamtramck, Mich. Lordstown Assembly is currently idled.
A third major issue, which is also big for Ford and Fiat Chrysler UAW members, is the large number of workers classified as temporary employees. They are paid substantially less, have fewer benefits, work unpredictable schedules, cannot build seniority, and are subject to arbitrary discipline and firings without recourse through the grievance procedure.
There is currently no proposed contract language giving temps a path to permanent, full-time status. GM is not giving any ground on this critical issue. Striking UAW members are fighting to eliminate what is essentially a third tier of workers. They want “no more tiers” and are pushing for second tier “in progression” workers — hired after October 2007 — to have parity with “traditional” workers.
The strikers told this writer they would be out “as long as it takes.”
Grevatt is a UAW retiree who worked at Fiat Chrysler 31 years.