US auto union UAW begins nation-wide strike against GM
16 September 2019
The US automobile workers union, United Auto Workers (UAW), started a nationwide strike at General Motors from the midnight on Sunday, leaving GM’s facilities short of 48,000 hourly workers, union officials said.
UAW said talks with GM on labor contract reached an impasse on Sunday, forcing the union to call for the first nationwide strike at GM in 12 years. But added there was no other option for the workers.
General Motors on Sunday stated it offered workers a package that includes over $7 billion in US investments, more than 5,400 Jobs, higher pay, improved benefits and more.
“We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows US jobs in substantive ways and it is disappointing that the UAW leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight. We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business,” GM stated in a website release.
Detailing the offer to workers, GM said it included:
- Solutions for unallocated assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio;
- Investments in eight facilities in four states;
- Introduction of all-new electric trucks;
- Opportunity to become the first union-represented battery cell manufacturing site in the US;
- Additional new vehicle and propulsion programmes;
- Best-in-class wages and benefits;
- Wage or lump sum increases in all four years;
- Improved profit sharing formula;
- Ratification payment of $8,000;
- Retain nationally-leading health care benefits; and
- New coverage for autism therapy care, chiropractic care and allergy testing.
“We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” the automaker said.
In a Tweet late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump urged UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!”. GM spokesman Tony Cervone said the automaker “couldn’t agree more” with Trump’s call.
A strike will shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy. Prolonged industrial action would also cause hardship for GM hourly workers on greatly reduced strike pay.
GM’s workers last went out on a brief two-day strike in 2007 during contract talks. Another strike at GM facility in Flint, Michigan, in 1998, lasted 54 days and cost the top US automaker more than $2 billion.
The union has been fighting GM’s planned closure of auto assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, and demanding higher for workers after years of record profits in North America.
GM said UAW wages and benefits are expensive compared with competing non-union auto plants in southern US states.
The automaker also justified plant shutdowns saying market shifts, especially the switchover to electric vehicles, demanded solutions for the Michigan and Ohio assembly plants that are non-productive.
GM’s offer to workers could include producing a future electric vehicle in Detroit.
It could also include turning a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, into an electric vehicle battery plant or going through with the proposed sale of the plant to a group affiliated with electric vehicle start-up Workhorse Group Inc.
A new battery plant could give some UAW workers at Lordstown the chance to remain with GM.
The closure of Lordstown drew widespread criticism, including from Trump, who met with GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on 5 September. Ohio is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.
Several Democratic presidential candidates said they backed the UAW, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former vice president Joe Biden and representative Tim Ryan.
Sanders noted GM received a U.S.-taxpayer funded $50 billion bailout a decade ago. “Our message to General Motors is a simple one: End the greed, sit down with the UAW and work out an agreement that treats your workers with the respect and the dignity they deserve,” Sanders said in a statement.
Biden said on Twitter he backed the UAW’s demand for “fair wages and benefits for their members. America’s workers deserve better.”
The union has framed the plant closures as a betrayal of workers who made concessions in 2009 to help GM through its government-led bankruptcy.
“General Motors needs to understand that we stood up for GM when they needed us,” Ted Krumm, head of the union’s bargaining committee in talks with GM, said at the Sunday news conference. These are profitable times ... and we deserve a fair contract.”
The UAW says significant differences remain between both sides over wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.