Displaced members of the United Auto Workers Union plan to maintain pickets at General Motors’ Detroit –Hamtramck plant — where the Chevrolet Volt is assembled — as the new GM gets tangled up in an old-fashioned labor dispute.
The so far peaceful confrontation nonetheless casts a long shadow over the upcoming contract talks between the UAW and Detroit’s Big Three automakers.
The first pickets went up Monday in a dispute dating back to the winter of 2008-2009 when GM was facing bankruptcy, had shuttered its suburban Orion, MI assembly plant and left the Volt factory, nicknamed Poletown, on a short schedule.
More than 200 drivers belonging to UAW Local 174, based at a Ryder Logistics terminal in Highland Park, were put on indefinite layoff. They have now been told their services are no longer required, said Chris Smith, one of the displaced drivers, triggering the protest.
“We waited until now because it didn’t make any sense to do anything while the plant was closed,” he said.
A flyer circulated throughout the Detroit-Hamtramck plant noted the drivers were never offered any severance by Ryder. “We want to be returned to our rightful jobs! Then we will negotiate with Ryder,” said the flyer.
Accusing Ryder of using “scab” labor, the flyer warns workers at the Poletown plant of potential safety violations and asks the, to honor picket lines.
GM officials have declined to comment, noting that the maker is already involved in the dispute between UAW Local 174 and Ryder. However, GM has asked the union to confine picketing to a gate used by trucking companies delivering freight and warned pickets the company will press trespassing charges if they stray onto company property.
The pickets don’t intend to disrupt the plant’s operations, organizers insist, but the protest did result in several trucks getting tickets as they attempted to make deliveries on the first day of picketing, union sources noted.
The labor dispute tests the limits of how far the UAW can and will go as it prepares to return to the bargaining table with the three Detroit makers – each of whom negotiates a separate contract, though one manufacturer usually serves up a pattern that is used as the model contract for the other two manufacturers.
Under the terms of the federal bailouts that saved both GM and Chrysler workers cannot engage in strikes while the U.S. Treasury still holds a stake in the companies. The only maker that the UAW can actually threaten with a walkout, at least this year, is Ford, though union leaders insist their goal is to avoid any confrontation, if possible, in the upcoming talks.