GM strike begins in 9 states
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
As U.S. auto manufacturers outsource jobs to Mexico and China, wages and benefits are stagnating and plant closures reflect globalization’s now notorious effects stateside. Beginning Sept. 16, almost 50,000 active members of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) formed picket lines in nine states against General Motors (GM).
This is the first GM strike in 12 years. Workers have been without a collective bargaining agreement since 2015, even after GM declared bankruptcy in 2009 with a $50 billion government bailout saving the company.
GM recovered, and now workers, who stood by the company through hard times, want compensation. Last year, the company netted $7.9 billion, with a CEO making $22 million. That’s 281 times what the average GM worker makes annually.
A zero-worker contract doesn’t fit well with GM’s new motto: “Zero crashes. Zero emissions. Zero congestion.” Better wages and health benefits with lasting job security do fit well as GM meets a streamlined market favoring Tesla-esque electric and self-driving vehicles.
Without a new contract, a strike has been looming — especially since plant closures were announced last November. Trade with China and ongoing manufacturing unease has pushed workers to the edge with strike pay at $250 weekly after the first week. The company could lose up to $100 million daily during the same time.
GM reports an initially generous contract offer, which the UAW calls “concessionary.” One major offer is a new electric truck production site and a union-represented battery cell manufacturing site for unallocated Hamtramck, Michigan, and Lordstown, Ohio, plants, respectively.
Overall, GM has offered $7 billion in worker investments: 5,400 new jobs reaching four states and eight facilities with new vehicle and propulsion programs. Regarding healthcare, benefits retention and new coverage for autism therapy, chiropractic services, and allergy testing were included. Finally, lump-sum pay raise increases, an $8,000 ratification payment, and improved profit-sharing — which now averages almost $11,000 annually — were part of the pay raise offer.
The UAW rejected GM’s offer, claiming workers they need the pay, benefits, and respect afforded to them as unionized American workers.
The union wants annual pay raise guarantees, not pay raises tied to successful company profit margins. Average auto industry hourly wages peaked in 2010 and “have plummeted 16 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.”
Average pay is $15 for newly hired/temporary workers hired after 2007, which was the year a new two-tiered wage structure was inaugurated. Workers with accrued seniority can reach much more hourly plus benefits, but this is by no means every employee.
The UAW argues GM should address its temp worker reliance, which is 7% of the current workforce. It wants to limit temp employment length, making those positions permanent.
Workers currently pay 3-4% of their healthcare benefits coverage; GM’s initial offer asked for 15%, which was flatly rejected. Even 20-year-old auto assembly line workers can contract arthritis due to physical work demands; affordable healthcare is vital here.
Beyond pay and benefits, some say the strike is about regaining membership confidence as a federal probe into UAW corruption continues. Supposedly, money was mishandled by union leaders, who spent it "lavishly."
But, the $250 weekly strike paycheck, with zero contract guarantees, is a hard sell by leadership. Striking members diligently form picket lines and field various divide and conquer tactics to improve their families’ lives, not merely regain confidence in leadership.
Speaking of division, UAW Aramark janitor members in Ohio and Michigan began striking one day earlier than others, requiring some to cross picket lines. Strike solidarity is crucial when you combine scab allegations with divisions between temporary, lower-paid and permanent, higher-paid workers.
Teamsters are refusing to transport GM vehicles and parts during the strike. Many non-manufacturing sector unions have expressed support on Twitter. The climate change-focused Sunshine Movement, which criticizes auto industry fossil fuel reliance, also supports striking GM workers. Social media overflows with expressions of support, even linking the Green New Deal to workers’ rights at a time of immense change in U.S. manufacturing.
For every assembly plant job, it is speculated that seven more related jobs exist — including parts suppliers. Reduced sales tax revenue is also possible if the strike endures.
Strikes provide the most dramatic example of labor withdrawal’s significant material and symbolic power. Historically, auto manufacturing has represented the U.S. economy’s overall health, rendering the GM strike outcome pivotal for all workers enduring globalization’s profound changes.
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