UAW Strike Against GM Drags Into Fourth Week

In a letter to local UAW officers, union vice president Terry Dittes says weekend talks had taken a turn for the worse and GM’s counteroffer to the UAW’s proposals was unacceptable.

Joseph Szczesny

October 7, 2019

3 Min Read
GM strike (002)
GM loses market share during strikes and never gets it back.Getty Images

The UAW strike against General Motors heads into its fourth week amid signs the two sides are holding fast to their positions, even as the cost of the walkout by 48,000 union members continues to mount and pressure for a settlement grows.

Optimism that a settlement was close faded over the weekend after GM rejected a proposal that the UAW maintained could have pointed toward a settlement, leaving the talks stalled and UAW bargainers angry and frustrated.

In a letter to local UAW officers, union vice president Terry Dittes says weekend talks had taken a turn for the worse and GM’s counteroffer to the UAW’s proposals was unacceptable.

Analysts have said the automaker has roughly 1 million units of excess capacity, but the union wants new protection from plant closings as well as new products assigned to GM plants.

GM has promised $7 billion in new investment, including a new electric truck that could be built at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant slated to close in 2020 and a battery plant at the Lordstown, OH, facility that was shuttered in March. But the UAW says GM’s proposals don’t go far enough to protect union jobs, according to a person briefed on the negotiations but who is not authorized to speak publicly.

John Russo, a labor analyst at Georgetown University, says the UAW appears to be making a stand to ensure so-called green jobs connected to the production of electric vehicles stay in the U.S. and don’t drift off to China or Mexico.

GM, which according to J.P. Morgan analysts is losing $82 million per day due to the strike, is looking for a contract that will minimize labor-cost increases.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith with very good proposals that benefit employees today and builds a stronger future for all of us. We are committed to continuing discussions around the clock to reach a resolution,” the automaker says in a statement.

GM is willing to modify the contract to satisfy union demands but also wants to limit labor-cost increases, says a company official familiar with GM’s position but who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

GM also is feeling the pressure from outside forces.

Political figures, including Democratic presidential candidates such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have spoken out against GM and have been joined by shareholders sympathetic to the union.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the nation's third-largest pension fund, wrote to GM Chairman Mary Barra expressing concern about the strike’s impact on the automaker’s finances.

Leaders of North America’s Building Trades Unions, comprising 14 labor groups, wrote to Barra urging her to find a swift and fair resolution to the contract dispute with the UAW. The NABTU retirement fund holds nearly $3.5 billion in GM shares, making it one of the automaker’s largest shareholders.

Strikers outside the GM Technical Center in Warren, MI, say they would like the walkout to end but also want a fair agreement. Ed Kaminski, a member of UAW Local 160, says GM in effect is asking union members to take a pay cut.

“I’d be concerned if I was a shareholder,” he says. “They’ve got to come to an agreement at some point. We’re a month behind on development and design.”

Another Local 160 member, Tech Center apprentice Huvairo Bush, says: “We have to take a stand. The company has made billions. The last three years they made $35 billion.”

Striking workers are receiving $250 per week from the UAW’s strike fund, while estimates of GM’s losses since the walkout began Sept. 16 are as high as $1 billion. GM suppliers also have begun laying off workers as the automaker’s plants sit idle.

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