Jamie L. LaReau
Detroit Free Press
Published 11:25 AM EDT Sep 15, 2019
DETROIT – The UAW Sunday morning called a nationwide strike against General Motors, the first such strike since 1982.
The union represents about 46,000 GM autoworkers. The strike starts at midnight Sunday, Terry Dittes, the union’s GM department vice president, said at a news conference in Detroit.
The move follows the union saying Saturday that it would not extend its contract with GM after it expired at midnight.
The strike announcement followed a meeting Sunday morning of GM union local presidents from around the country, gathering in the same building as General Motors’ Detroit headquarters.
The UAW said the nearly 175 union local leaders on the National Council voted unanimously to strike.
“We are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people of this nation,” said Dittes. “Going into the bargaining season, our members have been very clear of what they will and will not accept in this contract.”
When GM face bankruptcy 10 years ago, said Dittes, ”Our membership and the American taxpayer stood up and made the hard choices and sacrifices for this company.”
He said the union members have continued to build quality products that have led to big GM profits, so it is time for GM to step up.
The Free Press is awaiting GM’s statement.
UAW National Bargaining Committee Chairman Ted Krumm said, “Today I represent tens of thousands of UAW members who are sacrificing their comfort and future to stand up and do what’s right.
“I want to be clear about something. This strike is about us, about standing up for fair wages, for affordable quality health care and for job security. We’re standing up for our temporary employee brothers and sisters who do the same work but for less pay. These are profitable times, we worked hard to make this company profitable and we deserve a fair contract b/c we helped make this company what it is.”
UAW-represented janitors who work for contractor Aramark at five GM plants in Michigan and Ohio went on strike. Autoworkers crossed the janitors’ picket lines at Flint Assembly on Sunday morning as they awaited word from the Detroit meeting.
As the local leaders met, a few rank-and-file workers rallied outside in front of GM’s headquarters.
“I’m here to show support for all GM UAW membership,” said Frank Hammer, a retired president of Local 909 for GM’s Warren plant. “This will be a momentous decision if we want to strike, but it’s important for the industry and for contract bargaining.”
Hammer said it was “deplorable” that the UAW told GM union members to cross the picket line of Aramark-employed maintenance workers, who struck five GM sites in Michigan and Ohio at midnight Saturday. Autoworkers reported for their 7 a.m. shift Sunday at Flint Assembly, which makes Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
“The cardinal principle of our union is we don’t cross the picket line,” said Hammer. “I hope the UAW breaks the error in their policy.”
Hammer said GM must end two-tier wage system and find a way to help temporary workers become permanent, among other things.
Daniel Rider works at GM Romulus Engine plant, which builds the engine used in the Chevrolet Blazer SUV. GM assembles the Blazer in a Mexican plant, a decision that angered many UAW workers.
“We’re torn because we build that engine and yet the Blazer is built in Mexico,” said Rider, who showed up at the rally in front of GM headquarters. “We gotta fight for a fair contract. We want our concessions back that we gave during the bankruptcy,” he said.
Rider said he and his coworkers at Romulus are “willing to walk out at our plant if it comes to that.”
The union issued a blunt statement as the meeting began: “UAW helped rebuild General Motors when they were near extinction, now they’ve reached record-level profits. If GM refuses to give even an inch to help hard-working UAW members and their families, then we’ll see them on the picket lines tonight.”
On Saturday, GM said in a statement: “We continue to work hard on solutions to some very difficult challenges. We are prepared to negotiate around the clock because there are thousands of GM families and their communities — and many thousands more at our dealerships and suppliers — counting on us for their livelihood.”
The UAW, which represents nearly 150,000 hourly workers at GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, chose to negotiate a new contract first with GM. That deal will serve as a template for the UAW’s later talks with the other two.
The union is bitter over GM’s decision announced last fall that it would indefinitely idle four of its U.S. plants. The UAW has vowed to leave no stone unturned in fighting to get new product to build in those plants, which include Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, Detroit-Hamtramck and transmission plants in Warren and Baltimore.
The talks are playing out against the backdrop of a federal corruption investigation now touching the highest levels of the union. Charges against regional director Vance Pearson implicated UAW President Gary Jones and immediate past President Dennis Williams in the misuse of union money.
The union negotiates a new contract with the automakers every four years. In 2015 the UAW chose to lead with FCA. If the UAW leadership believes it must strike, members at all three companies have voted to authorize one.
The UAW’s rank and file want a base wage increase. They also seek to protect benefits and to narrow the wage gap between workers hired after 2007 compared with those who’ve worked at GM before 2007. They also want to establish a plan for temporary employees to go permanent, among other things.
But job security is critical too, given GM’s November 2018 announcement that it would idle four U.S. plants. Detroit-Hamtramck is the only one continuing to operate, but GM plans to shut it down in January.
For its part, GM and other automakers seek to control costs amid trade and tariff uncertainties, unclear fuel economy standards and a predicted economic downturn on the horizon that could hurt sales. Health care costs are some of the highest for automakers and that also remains an issue.
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan