The United Auto Workers broke with conventional wisdom and selected General Motors Co. as its strike target in negotiations for a new labor pact as talks enter their final phase, setting up a showdown about plants closings, wages and future product allocations.
Gary Jones, UAW president, said that the UAW has decided to proceed on bargaining with GM. “Mary Barra said from the outset of these talks that we will stand up as we tackle a changing industry. We are ready to stand strong for our future,” said Jones.
Detroit Big 3 contracts all expire at midnight Sept. 14. UAW GM local unions have all voted to strike and sent a national bargaining team supported by the UAW International Union and their UAW GM Department.
“We are focused. We are prepared and we are all ready to stand up for our members, our communities and our manufacturing future,” added Jones.
The union leadership, which is under intense pressure because of the mushrooming scandal about the misappropriation of funds set aside for the training of UAW members, hasn’t give any inkling on its choice for a target this year until today.
“The talks are moving,” said Cindy Estrada, head of the UAW bargaining team at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. told thedetroitbureau.com as union members lined up for the annual Labor Day parade in Detroit. “It wouldn’t be professional to comment,” said Terry Dittes, the head of the union’s bargaining team at General Motors.
Nonetheless, speculation through the summer was that the union would bypass GM because of the potential for a major confrontation and select Ford as the target to set the pattern for 2019 target. Going first offers certain advantages for the target company as its negotiators have first crack at setting the fundamental economic pattern, covering wages and benefits in the next contract.
Going first also exposes the company to a strike, though during the last two decades since a lengthy local strike in Flint in 1998, that closed down GM, the UAW has tended to avoid walkouts that could undermine the economic health of the major employers.
This year, however, the atmosphere around the talks seems different.
In addition, to the deep frustration with the announcement that closed five plants across the U.S., the cloud over the union’s leadership, highlighted during Monday’s Labor Day parade in Detroit by signs calling for the removal of the union’s top officers, could make reaching a settlement more difficult and put added pressure on the target company.
The dissidents calling for reform of the union not only were protesting the corruption uncovered by a Federal grand jury in Detroit, which has led to eight criminal convictions, they were also frustrated by the concessions the union has made in years past that have eliminated traditional pensions for new employees and created a tiered wage system that pays works on the first tier than those on the other rungs of ladder outline in the contract.
“We’re trying to send a message to both to the union and to the companies we work for,” said Brian Keller, an FCA employee who was one of the principal organizers.
Keller’s small band also included workers from Ford and GM. “We want to stop the job losses and concessions as well as the corruption, cronyism and nepotism,” said Keller, adding Jones should step aside rather than lead the critical negotiations.
Jones’ private residence in suburban Detroit was raided last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Federal authorities indicated the raid was part of the investigation into union corruption.
Not only has the scandal, which has grown out of an investigation a Federal Grand Jury in Detroit, uncovered wrongdoing in handling of funds at the UAW-FCA training center, Michael Grimes, a retired UAW staff member, who oversaw the disbursement of training funds, is expected to plead guilty this week to federal criminal charges.
Grimes’ plea deal, which is likely to hinge on his cooperation with federal investigators, is also expected to lead to additional indictments.
As the contract deadline approaches, the scandal at the top of the UAW has tended to overshadow the everyday concerns of union members, which center around the multi-tiered wage structure and the growing use of temporary workers, who get no profit-sharing money and make a little more than half of the $31 per hour paid long-term hourly workers covered by the UAW contracts.
The UAW has conducted strike votes at local representing GM, Ford and FCA workers and the results indicate a growing sense of militancy among union members. It’s not unusual for union members to approve the strike authorization by margins of 80% to 90%. But this year. the approval of strike authorization has been almost unanimous.
“It’s higher than normal,” noted said Marc Hollowood, who works at the Ford Truck Assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and who joined Keller’s call for reform of the union.
“We’ve got lot of young employees in the plant but they are as frustrated as anyone else,” Hollowood said. “If they’re going to negotiate, they’ve got to negotiate for everyone.”
Hollowood has plenty of supporters.
“I’ve been a dues-paying member for 14 years,” said Jimmy Smith, who also works on the assembly line at the Ford Truck Assembly plant in Dearborn. “Everybody should be at the same pay level.”
James Philbeck, a member of UAW Local 2209 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who also joined the protest, something needs to be done to improve conditions on shop floor where jobs are being overloaded in the name efficiency. “I’ve worked there 24 years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Philbeck, a veteran of the assembly line at the GM assembly plant in Fort Wayne.