Auto Workers members picket outside the General
Motors Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in
Hamtramck, Mich., early Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.
Roughly 49,000 workers at General Motors plants in
the U.S. planned to strike just before midnight
Sunday, but talks between the UAW and the automaker
DETROIT — More than
49,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off
General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines early
Monday as contract talks with the company deteriorated
into a strike.
Workers shut down 33
manufacturing plants in nine states across the U.S., as
well as 22 parts distribution warehouses.
It wasn't clear how long
the walkout would last, with the union saying GM has
budged little in months of talks while GM said it made
substantial offers including higher wages and factory
It's the first national
strike by the union since a two-day walkout in 2007 that
had little impact on the company.
GM workers joined striking
Aramark-employed janitors assigned to GM facilities on the
picket lines Sunday night at a sprawling factory on the
border between Detroit and the small town of Hamtramck.
Worker Patty Thomas said
she wasn't scheduled to picket, but came out to support
her colleagues at the car plant, which GM wants to close.
She's heard talk that GM
may keep the factory open and start building electric
pickup trucks there, but she's skeptical.
"What are they going
to take away?" she asked. "That's the big
She said workers gave up
cost-of-living pay raises to help GM get through
bankruptcy, and workers want some of that back now that
the company is making profits.
Striking GM employees were
joined on the picket lines by workers from Ford and Fiat
Chrysler, who are working under contract extensions.
Night shift workers at an
aluminum castings factory in Bedford, Indiana, that makes
transmission casings and other parts shut off their
machines and headed for the exits, said Dave Green, a
worker who transferred from the now-shuttered GM small-car
factory in Lordstown, Ohio.
Green, a former local union
president, said he agrees with the strike over wages,
plant closures and other issues.
"If we don't fight
now, when are we going to fight?" he asked.
"This is not about us. It's about the future."
UAW Vice President Terry
Dittes, the union's top GM negotiator, said a strike is
the union's last resort but is needed because both sides
are far apart in negotiating a new four-year contract. The
union, he said Saturday, does not take a strike lightly.
"We clearly understand
the hardship that it may cause," he said. "We
are standing up for fair wages, we are standing up for
affordable quality health care, we are standing up for our
share of the profits."
GM, however, said it
offered pay raises and $7 billion worth of U.S. factory
investments resulting in 5,400 new positions, a minority
of which would be filled by existing employees. GM would
not give a precise number. The company also said it
offered higher profit sharing, "nationally
leading" health benefits and an $8,000 payment to
each worker upon ratification.
Because public statements
from both sides conflict, it's hard to tell how long the
strike will last, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of
labor and industry at the Center for Automotive Research,
an industry think tank. The length "depends on how
far apart they really are and where the lines in the sand
are drawn," she said.
Talks were scheduled to
resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Monday.
The union's contract with
GM expired Saturday night, but pacts with the company's
crosstown rivals, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, were extended
indefinitely. The union has picked GM as its target
company this year, and any deal it negotiates will be used
as a template for the others. GM was picked because it's
the most profitable of the three, and because its plans to
close four U.S. factories have angered union members.
On Sunday, about 200
plant-level leaders voted unanimously to strike against GM
if no deal could be reached by Sunday night. Although
talks were halted over the weekend, UAW spokesman Brian
Rothenberg said there was still dialogue.
Before the talks broke off,
GM offered to build a new all-electric pickup truck at a
factory in Detroit that is slated to close next year,
according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on
condition of anonymity. The person wasn't authorized to
disclose details of the negotiations.
The automaker also offered
to open an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown,
Ohio, where it has a huge factory that has already stopped
making cars and will be closed. The new factory would be
in addition to a proposal to make electric vehicles for a
company called Workhorse, the person said.
It's unclear how many
workers the two plants would employ. The closures,
especially of the Ohio plant, have become issues in the
2020 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has
consistently criticized the company and demanded that
Lordstown be reopened.
Rothenberg said UAW was
striking for fair wages, affordable health care, profit
sharing, job security and a path to permanent employment
for temporary workers.
GM has factories in
Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas,
Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.
A strike would bring to a
halt GM's U.S. vehicle and parts production, and would
likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and
Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for
consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make
it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.
Analysts at Cox Automotive
said GM has enough vehicles on dealer lots to last about
77 days at the current sales pace. That's well above the
industry average of 61. But supplies of the Chevrolet
Tahoe and Suburban large SUVs, which generate big money
for the company, are well below the industry average.
The talks this year have
been overshadowed by a growing federal corruption probe
that snared a top union official on Thursday. Vance
Pearson, head of a regional office based near St. Louis,
was charged in an alleged scheme to embezzle union money
and spend cash on premium booze, golf clubs, cigars and
swanky stays in California. It's the same region that UAW
President Gary Jones led before taking the union's top
office last year. Jones himself has been touched by the
investigation, leading some union members to call for him
to step down, but he hasn't been charged.
This year's talks between
the union and GM were tense from the start, largely
because of GM's plan to close four U.S. factories,
including the one on the Detroit border with the enclave
of Hamtramck, as well as Lordstown and factories in
Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.
Here are the main areas of
— GM is making big money,
$8 billion last year alone, and workers want a bigger
slice. The union wants annual pay raises to guard against
an economic downturn, but the company wants to pay lump
sums tied to earnings. Automakers don't want higher fixed
— The union also wants
new products for the four factories slated to close. GM
currently has too much U.S. factory capacity, especially
to build slower-selling cars.
— The companies want to
close the labor cost gap with workers at plants run by
foreign automakers. GM pays $63 per hour in wages and
benefits compared with $50 at the foreign-owned factories.
GM's gap is the largest at $13 per hour, according to
figures from the Center for Automotive Research.
— Union members have
great health insurance plans and workers pay about 4% of
the cost. Employees at large firms nationwide pay about
34%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Automakers
would like to cut costs.