GM, UAW strike deal: Automaker, union reach tentative agreement on new contract

Jamie L. LaReau  USA TODAY

Oct 16, 2019

General Motors and the UAW reached a proposed tentative agreement on a new contract Wednesday that could end a month-long strike.

The autoworkers walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 16, launching the union’s first nationwide strike in 12 years. Their four-year contract had expired at midnight Sept. 14.

If approved by a council of union leaders, the deal would end the strike as long as GM workers represented by the UAW cast votes to ratify the deal.

The UAW did not immediately reveal details of the accord.

Autoworkers were bitter about GM announcing plans in November 2018 to idle four U.S. plants and argued it was time for them to be rewarded after making concessions a decade ago to help the automaker rebound from bankruptcy.

During negotiations, it became evident that workers were adamant that temporary workers should get a better deal from GM. The union during the recession a decade ago agreed to expanded hiring of temps by GM, Ford and what then was Chrysler. Those workers are paid $15-$19 an hour with no profit sharing, little time off and no job protection.  

Tommy Wolikow throws his fist in the air in solidarity while standing with other UAW members as workers leave Flint Assembly early Sept. 16, 2019 while taking part in a national strike against General Motors after stalled contract negotiations with General Motors. The workers are on the first national UAW strike since 2007.Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press via USA Today Network

The final days of negotiations focused on what the automaker would commit to build at U.S. plants over the four-year life of the new contract. The union pressed for internal combustion vehicle commitments even as GM says it is moving toward an electric future and continues low-cost Mexican production of SUVs and pickups for U.S. sale.

Key issues included:

  • Temporary workers. GM wanted the ability to hire more temps to save costs and be able to quickly reduce the workforce in case of a market downturn. The UAW wanted to equalize pay for temps, profit sharing and a path to permanent employment. Similarly, it wanted to even out pay for workers hired after 2007, who start at $17 an hour and can reach $28 after eight years. 
  • Job security. That’s code for commitments by automakers to invest in U.S. factories and commit to building vehicles here. Detroit automakers in contracts say, given solid market conditions, they will invest in UAW-represented sites and tie that spending to numbers of jobs created or retained.
  • Health care. GM is self-insured and spends $900 million a year on hourly workers’ care. UAW members pay just 3% of their costs, compared with 28% for the average U.S. worker. Autoworkers, who argue that their jobs are physically taxing and can lead to chronic injury early in life, won here, with GM agreeing to leave workers’ costs unchanged. 
  • Pay. Autoworkers’ pay has eroded 16% against inflation since 2010, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor

The deal was struck only after an acrimonious strike that included bickering over whether the company or union would pay strikers’ health care costs and GM obtaining a court order barring picketers from blocking entry at the company’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, assembly plant. Ten strikers were arrested there in two incidents. 

The tentative agreement will be reviewed by the National GM Council, which has been summoned to a meeting Thursday morning in Detroit. If the council approves it, the proposed pact will be submitted to UAW-represented GM employees for ratification. 

The negotiations have been conducted under a cloud cast by a corruption investigation that has led to nine convictions of union and auto officials. Days before the contract expired, regional director Vance Pearson was charged with lavish spending of union money for himself, and court documents in the case implicated the current and former presidents of the union.

The ratification vote will be a measure of members’ trust of their leaders to negotiate a good deal that they must live with for the next four years.

The union chose to negotiate first with GM to create a template that it will soon take to Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, whose UAW contracts were extended while the union negotiated with GM. 

All told, the UAW represents 148,000 workers for the three Detroit automakers.


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