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UAW strike ends as union members approve new contract with GM

uaw strike signs laying on the ground
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio

The UAW strike against General Motors is over. Union members voted 57% to 43% to ratify a new four-year contract.

Vincent Gardner was manning his post on the picket line Friday afternoon, a few hours before the contract ratification was officially announced.  But everyone knew the strike was over.  

Gardner has been working at Romulus Powertrain since 1997. He thinks the negotiations went as negotiations always do: with compromises. On both sides.

“Is it a perfect contract? No, but GM got what they wanted, we pretty much got what we wanted, and that's the best we can hope for,” he said.

Newly-hired workers will reach full wage parity with previously hired workers within four years. Before, it took eight.

GM also agreed to give temporary workers some paid time off and allow them to apply for open full-time jobs after three years as a temp. In return, the union agreed to let GM close three plants for good.

Gardner says some people had unreasonable expectations. They wanted everything back the way it was before GM's bankruptcy, like cost of living raises. Unicorn stuff, he calls it.  

“I mean there are people here talking about getting back 90 days to full seniority,” he said.

Stephanie Becker says she's disappointed. She was picketing in front of GM's sales and distribution center in Romulus, even though she works at the powertrain plant down the street.  

She was doing this so lower-paid coworkers at the sales center could leave to vote on the contract. A contract that will keep them at a lower wage.

“They did away with our different wages, from assemblers to powertrain, but these people were left out of that and that's not good,” Becker said.

The 40-day strike took a financial toll on workers, some more than others. Some people went to food banks. Others canceled vacations. Dominic and Josie Richardson were just about to buy a house.

“We were ready to close and everything and then the lender came back and said since we were on strike, they could not approve us,” Dominic Richardson said.

So was this strike necessary? Was it worth it? Harley Shaiken is a labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley. Here's how he answers those questions:

“I don't think a strike is ever inevitable, but I suspect these gains that the UAW won would have been impossible absent a strike, and I think what the strike did was it focused both sides on what was achievable,” he said.

For its part, GM may have gone into the negotiations hoping to reduce its labor costs. But Kristen Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research says it had to reduce its overall costs. And that's what it achieved.

Closing three plants including Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, she says, will save the company billions.

“They were running at 68% capacity utilization, that is not sustainable over the long term,” she said.

Now the remaining GM plants will run at about 80% of their capacity; a number much closer to competitors like Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda.

The company is expected to start calling workers back to some plants almost immediately, and many will return on Monday.

The union has announced it will begin contract talks with Ford Motor Company next. 

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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