After 40-day strike GM workers approve contract

Discussion continues on fight to end wage tiers

By Sam Manuel
November 11, 2019
GM workers gained confidence during the strike, standing together and building unity in fight for equal pay for equal work. Above, Sept. 18 UAW picket at Detroit-Hamtramck plant.
Jim West/Zuma WireGM workers gained confidence during the strike, standing together and building unity in fight for equal pay for equal work. Above, Sept. 18 UAW picket at Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

SPRING HILL, Tenn. — Some 49,000 United Auto Workers members are back at work at General Motors after approving a new four-year contract 57% to 43%. The discussion among workers continues on what was accomplished in the 40-day strike, and the need to fight to end divisive multitier wage scales; equalize pay and benefits for workers at assembly plants, part plants and distribution centers; and to strengthen the union.  

With the GM strike over and contract approved, UAW officials opened talks with Ford, while extending the old contract with Fiat-Chrysler. 

GM workers went on strike Sept. 16 at 33 factories and 22 parts warehouses. Workers were looking to regain ground lost over the last decade when GM used a carefully engineered bankruptcy and the effects of the world capitalist financial crisis to begin imposing lower wages for new hires, spun off “unprofitable” plants, and set up different divisions that paid lower wages across the board. 

The strike won widespread support from other working people and small business owners, who honked horns as they drove by picket lines, and dropped off food, beverages, wood for burn barrels and more to help workers stay strong during the strike. And many other workers watched the strike closely, considering how unions and solidarity can be used to advance their class interests. 

Under the old contract so-called legacy workers, those hired in the assembly plants prior to 2008, got the top wage, some $30 an hour. Workers hired since 2007 started out at just over half that and took eight years of “progression” before they reached top rate, which is not quite what the legacy workers got. 

The new contract has two raises, two lump-sum payments that don’t roll over into workers’ wages, and  a signing bonus.

In the new deal, some 3,000 workers at GM’s parts manufacturing subsidiary GMHC — created in 2009 — top out at $22.50 an hour. Another set of wage tiers at GM’s parts warehouses  top out at $25 for those hired after 2015 and at $31 for those hired earlier. 

GM contracts out 850 cleaning and maintenance jobs at its plants in Ohio and Michigan to Aramark Corporation. The workers also belong to the UAW and approved a separate contract. 

Strikers made clear their desire to get rid of the divisions. “No more tiers,” read many signs on the picket lines. “Equal work, equal pay! Temp lives matter,” was a popular slogan on T-shirts. 

Some divisions were narrowed with the new contract. Temporary workers at the assembly plants, numbering 7%, get both lower pay and fewer benefits. They are now supposed to become permanent workers after three years. All permanent workers in these factories are to reach top rate in four instead of eight years. 

While the contract passed at most of the assembly plants, workers at every GMHC parts plant and most of the parts warehouses voted no. Two major assembly plants, the one here and one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, rejected the contract by narrow margins. The vote here was 51% to 49%. 

“There was no provision for job security,” Lisa Carr who works on the brake line in Spring Hill told the Militant  Oct. 23. This is her third GM plant after having to transfer from two earlier closures. 

“It’s time to make the temps equal,” Carr added. “We all work hard in this plant” noting that there’s just 30 to 90 seconds to complete most job tasks. 

Dwayne Klepper, 53, has worked as a temp here for three years, but because any layoff over 30 days restarts the clock, GM only counts him as having one year of service. “‘Temp’ is a bad word,” he said. “We’re all workers.”  

Gary Corr, a picket captain, told this worker-correspondent he voted for the contract because of the wage increases. Corr has worked at GM for 4½ years. Job security is important but you can’t get a guarantee on that, he said. “They can promise not to close the plant and just shut it down anyway.” 

What the bosses did under the old contract, which had some language about having to talk to the union about plant closings, was to “unallocate” vehicles for production at Lordstown, Ohio, and shutter the plant.

Several workers said after being on the picket line that they got to know more of their co-workers, gaining confidence in their ability to fight together. “People were strong and didn’t blink in face of a tight situation,” Corr noted. 

UAW members at GM’s Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, also voted the contract down. Bill Mulligan, who had transferred there from the now-closed plant in Lordstown, told the Bowling Green Daily News  that he was skeptical about the new contract’s promise on temp workers. 

“I was hired as a temp,” he said. “All they’re going to do is lay them off before their time is up, and then they’ll have to start over again.” 

Another UAW member, James Hawks, told the paper he voted against the contract even though “there are some good things, like the health insurance.” The bosses dropped demands to raise workers’ payments for medical.

Hawks is still an “in-progression” worker. “I voted no and didn’t have to think twice about it,” he said. “I can’t just look out for myself. I have to look at my fellow workers and consider if it’s fair for them. If it doesn’t help us all, it helps none of us.” 

David Parnell Jr., who works at the GM Flint Assembly plant, told the Detroit News  that “I’m happy” with the contract. “We got what we could out of this fight,” he said, “and in 2023 [when the contract expires] it’s going to be a different fight.”