What does GM owe workers?
Tuesday, October 08, 2019
General Motors (GM) and Aramark workers began a historic strike three weeks ago. The labor action has already cost the U.S.’ largest automaker $1 billion. This lost money — including “idle trucks and packed warehouses” for numerous related businesses — continues, threatening broad economic instability.
The United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) presented GM with a proposal package on Oct. 5 that outlined a minimum of 35 hourly proposals and three salaried proposals. Also included was an offer covering signing bonuses, pensions, skilled trades, transfer rights, job security, and profit sharing.
The union reports negotiation progress on healthcare benefits and temporary worker employment issues, while other negotiations are less successful. On Oct. 6, GM rejected the package, according to the UAW website, and the union has called for a detailed response from GM, which it has not yet received.
Instead, the company announced training center closures while workers collect significantly less strike pay after the first standard paycheck was missed by employees. Striking workers’ solidarity in 19 states continues.
The original source of workers’ complaints stems from three general features of today’s globalized economy: a reliance on temporary workers, outsourcing for cheaper labor, and lip service towards more energy efficiency. As stateside workers face reduced strike pay and healthcare-benefit suspensions during contract negotiations, GM has presumably closed or limited its Silao, Mexico plant, impacting 19,000 workers who build the Silverado and Sierra trucks.
This shows the strike’s far-reaching impact. Also, the union faces a large-scale corruption investigation; officials are charged with a number of crimes, including embezzlement, money laundering, and mail and wire fraud.
According to The Detroit News, these charges add to an already frustrating climate, and the frustration spreads. 11,000 GM affiliated employees have filed jobless claims in Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere.
Job losses from affiliated workers and direct GM employee-benefit suspensions are an example of the immense toll the strike takes economically and personally. Many see GM’s health-benefit suspension as a sign that it plans to prolong contract negotiations. GM’s initial offer included a benefit pay increase of 15%, which workers flatly rejected.
GM CEO Mary Barra continues to field company controversies and collect 218 times the pay of the average GM worker at around $21 million in 2018.
One of the company’s much-touted reasons for restructuring is its electric vehicle manufacturing plan, which requires less labor and more automation. While energy-efficient vehicle production is laudable, the question remains: does cleaner energy vehicle production require massive job cuts?
What if outsourced jobs were returned to the U.S. from China (which has more GM workers than the U.S.), Canada and Mexico? What then would GM, or the U.S. government, operating with the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), owe overseas workers after creating employment dependencies and then leaving?
One sinister move would be GM using electric vehicle production as an excuse to move its labor force toward lower-wage temp work. This would be remembered as a major union-busting move. Hindsight here is 20/20. We will only know the full outcome of GM’s intentions after the dust has settled on a new contract and we see factory floors busy again.
What if, instead of eliminating stricter auto emissions standards, politicians encouraged these standards with other green manufacturing requirements, as the automobile industry faces a decline anyway amid climate catastrophe?
This would appease some Green New Deal measures, but obviously not fulfill the total socialist vision for workers’ control of production — which is the full form of workers’ economic justice.
This historic strike evokes the inherent contradictions of today’s dirty energy economy and capitalism itself. Can a clean energy commitment accompany job growth and security? Or is this all smoke and mirrors, denying that true clean energy and job security are at fundamental odds?
A domestic paradigm shift toward more humane social policies — like decarceration and affordable housing — along with green manufacturing would provide new job markets in social service fields alongside green-collar jobs in the traditional manufacturing sector.
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