GM Offers to Extend UAW Contract Terms to Battery Plants

General Motors agrees for the first time to place its new battery plants under the jurisdiction of the GM-UAW master labor agreement, but targeted strikes at Detroit Three facilities continue.

Joseph Szczesny

October 6, 2023

4 Min Read
Fain Eat the Rich screenshot
UAW President Fain wears 'Eat the Rich' t-shirt while updating union members on major concession by General Motors in contract talks.UAW

The UAW scores what appears to be a major victory in its continuing negotiations with Detroit’s three automakers as General Motors agrees for the first time to place its new battery plants under the jurisdiction of the GM-UAW master labor agreement.

Union President Shawn Fain says during a Friday afternoon Facebook Live appearance that the breakthrough on battery plants was not enough to end the existing strikes that have placed 25,000 auto workers on the picket lines. However, Fain says the UAW will not be expanding the strikes to include more plants as it continues to negotiate new contracts with GM, Ford and Stellantis.

Fain also makes it clear the UAW will be continuing its public relations campaign attacking all three companies for not restoring the wages and benefits lost when the union agreed to help all three automakers survive the Great Recession, particularly pensions and tiered-wage system that pays newer hires less..

“Bargaining,” says Fain, who donned a provocative “Eat the Rich” t-shirt for his Facebook appearance, “is about making them say yes when they want to say no.”

Meanwhile, the UAW strikes entering their fourth week are putting more pressure on suppliers, according to the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Assn.

MEMA says a survey of its members indicates nearly 30% have laid off some employees as a result of the strikes, and more than 60% expect to begin layoffs by mid-October if the strikes continue, according to the survey, which was completed at the end of September. MEMA represents suppliers employing more than 900,000 people across the U.S.

Suppliers impacted by the walkouts will take at least a week to resume operations, the survey indicates.

MEMA says it is working with the Biden Admin. to develop a plan to offer financial assistance for smaller suppliers, defined as those having less than $200 million in annual revenue. The output of these suppliers, often Tier 2 or lower, is critical to the ongoing viability of the entire supply chain, MEMA says in a statement accompanying the survey.

Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan estimates GM is now losing $21 million per day due to the strikes and Ford is losing $18 million. There are few signs a tentative agreement is close despite a week of intense bargaining held after the UAW expanded the strikes to include the GM assembly plant in Delta Township outside Lansing, MI, and Ford’s Chicago assembly plant (pictured, below). Stellantis was spared from the expanded strikes after presenting a last-minute contract offer, according to Fain.

Ford chicago-assembly-plant.jpg

Ford chicago-assembly-plant

“Negotiations continue. Our focus remains on working diligently with the UAW to achieve a record contract and a strong future for our employees,” Ford says in a statement Thursday. About 7,900 Ford workers are now on strike, and 1,330 stamping and engine plant employees have been idled.

Ford estimates the strikes have idled another 9,500 workers employed by companies that supply Ford factories.

GM spokesman David Barnas says in an email to Wards: “We can confirm that we provided a counteroffer to the UAW's most recent proposal – our sixth since the start of negotiations. We believe we have a compelling offer that would reward our team members and allow GM to succeed and thrive into the future. We continue to stand ready and willing to negotiate in good faith 24/7 to reach an agreement.”

GM took another step toward easing tensions with the UAW by agreeing to pay the health insurance for GM hourly employees on strike and employees idled at other GM plants, Barnas confirms.

The union also is keeping up pressure on Detroit’s automakers by encouraging members to turn down overtime.  Once the previous contracts expired Sept. 14, the companies could not demand employees work overtime.

Eric Truss, a Local 600 assembly worker at Ford’s Rouge plant in Dearborn, MI, says on Facebook that even a small number of members refusing overtime can have a big impact. “A torque inspector approached me. She said: ‘I don’t want to do OT, I want to support the picket line. I’m going to speak to others.’

“After she talked to them, they all refused. That shut down the whole line. Management knew that without those torque inspectors, they had to shut it down.

“That particular line feeds the assembly plant for the electric F-150. Without that one line running, it could put the EV plant at a critical low on its supply chain,” Truss recounts. “Which is amazing because it’s torque checkers on a small line of 12 people who could possibly shut down the whole EV plant.”

At GM’s big assembly plant in Arlington, TX, electricians use bicycles to respond to maintenance issues. The unionized electricians have parked their bikes and now walk to the calls, according to one Facebook post from inside the plant.

Workers at other plants not struck by the UAW have engaged in other types of slowdowns, which are not officially approved by the union but are allowed under labor law.

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