UAW-represented workers at five General Motors plants went on strike Saturday as talks between the union and automaker continued throughout the day. However, the strikers were Aramark janitorial staffers, not GM employees.
In fact, GM employees were instructed to report to their jobs as usual, crossing the picket lines. However, talks haven’t been progressing quickly and GM workers could be joining their Aramark brethren, who have been on a year-long contract extension, walking the line.
The union granted extensions to Ford and Fiat Chrysler on Friday, but as of Sunday morning, has not offered one to GM. The UAW-GM council is slated to meet Sunday morning to decide next steps, which could result in a walkout.
In a statement, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes noted there had been “some progress,” but there were still hurdles to jump when it comes to health care benefits, wages, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.
“While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care and job security, GM refuses to put hard working Americans ahead of their record profits of $35 billion in North America over the last three years,” Dittes, director of the UAW GM department, said in a statement. “We are united in our efforts to get an agreement our members and their families deserve.”
The talks have been fraught with a bit a chaos and uncertainty from the beginning. Union members voted last month to approve strikes against GM, Ford and FCA. But the union has approved “indefinite” extension of the labor agreements with Ford and FCA, according to UAW officers
At the same time the UAW also is dealing with fallout from an investigation that has led to federal criminal charges being leveled against a number of union officers and officials, including a current member of UAW’s senior executive ranks, Vance Pearson, director of UAW Region 5 in the western United States.
GM’s frustrations with current talks was evident in a statement the company issued shortly after the charges were revealed. “GM is outraged and deeply concerned by the conduct of union officials as uncovered by the government’s investigation and the expanding charges,” the company said.
GM should be concerned says Harley Shaiken, a labor expert from the University of California-Berkley, but the problem isn’t with the scandal’s potential impact on UAW President Gary Jones.
“The contract and the charges swirling around Jones are two separate issues,” Shaiken told thedetroitbureau.com, noting that if Jones were involved in any type of distraction, say he had gone into the hospital with lymphoma, the negotiations would still go forward.
Shaiken suggested what GM is probably more worried about is the rising militancy of GM’s workforce, which expects the union to deliver a contract with economic improvements. The scandal has probably fed into the spirit of militancy, he acknowledged.
“Walter Reuther and the people around him built a system that could deliver contract gains regardless of the quality of the leadership,” said Shaiken, who also noted the system has endured for decades.
During the last decade, however, the union has had to tamp down the militancy of workers frustrated by concessions and the two-tier pay system first written into contracts in 2007. The scandal, which has touched several union officers and officials by now, has probably limited the ability of union negotiators to come up with unique solutions in this year’s talks, which no doubt creates difficulties for GM’s negotiating team.
Last time around in 2015, then-UAW president Dennis Williams talked up the idea of creating a buying co-operative that would include all of the employees from GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Contract language that could have led to the creation of the co-operative was part of the first tentative contract that was negotiated between the UAW and FCA.
However, when union members rejected the first the contract at FCA because it didn’t go far enough in addressing the two-tier issue, sparking a backlash on social media, the health-care proposal was pulled from the second agreement negotiated between the UAW and FCA.
Williams said he was sorry to see the proposal die because he thought it could help the automakers curb the rising cost of health care.
Social media posts are again flying in the current talks, serving as a storm warnings for negotiators from both union and management.
“I’ve been in the union for 26 years dude so I’m definitely not anti union. I just have a huge problem when the top leadership of our union decides to spend millions of our hard earned union dues finance their extravagant lifestyles. I could(n’t) care less what GM spends on sponsorship!! They are not the ones who are supposed to be representing me or my future. Last time I checked, I thought that was the union’s job,” one worker noted on Facebook
“Trust and confidence. Jesus! Earn it. Fraud. Embezzlement. Bribery. When my fat ass is back in Ohio building a new product, we can talk,” said another post.
“Screw the International. It’s time for a grass-roots effort by all locals. Don’t give anything up in exchange for product or other favoritism. All locals need to strike until an agreement is ratified that is fair to all plants and locals. No whipsaw, brothers and sisters. We must all fight together, since our top ‘leaders’ have sold us out and embezzled from our dues. All that wasted money should have gone toward our strike fund,” said another.
However, the tone of the talks was wet last November when GM elected to close four plants, displacing thousands of workers. “Unfortunately, GM stated that its workers are not stakeholders in the company. What they said instead was we buy labor as we need it like any other commodity,” the poster wrote.
GM could have put another product in Lordstown but it elected not to, the poster added.
Michael Strong contributed to this story.