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50,000 striking GM workers will now vote on tentative agreement

Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

Striking General Motors workers will remain on the picket lines for at least another week, even as the United Auto Workers national council voted to recommend a tentative agreement with GM for ratification.

This means the nearly 50,000 rank-and-file workers, who began their strike September 16, will now have an opportunity to vote on the proposal.

The union’s negotiating committee recommended UAW leadership accept the proposed agreement, which would give its members pay increases, protect their health insurance coverage without saddling them with the additional payments sought by management, and provide a way for temporary workers at GM to become better-paid permanent employees.

Keeping workers out on strike an additional week will cost UAW members $14 million in lost wages, and non-union workers at supplier firms who were furloughed because of the strike will lose $20.5 million, according to the Anderson Economic Group.

The ratification process could take up to eight days. A typical full time UAW worker has already lost roughly $7,000 in wages, according to the Anderson Economic Group.

The deal did not include any shift of vehicles now built in Mexico back to US plants, something the union had sought. And it did not save three of the four plants that GM announced plans to close last November – the assembly line in Lordstown, Ohio, as well as transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore. All those plants halted operations earlier this year.

In a statement, General Motors said, “We encourage the UAW to move as quickly as possible through the ratification process, so we can resume operations and get back to producing vehicles for our customers. Our goal during these negotiations was to ensure that the future of General Motors is one that works for our employees, dealers, suppliers and the communities where we operate. The agreement reflects our commitment to U.S. manufacturing through the creation of new jobs and increased investment.”

Asked what the union got in the contract that made them willing to give up bringing product lines back from Mexico, UAW spokesperson Brian Rothenberg said, “We remain strongly opposed to unallocate the plants and will continue to fight for those jobs in America. They [UAW negotiators] did everything they could to rectify the situation.”

The company did agree to save the Hamtramck assembly plant in Detroit, but only by agreeing to build an electric truck there on an undetermined date well into the future. That plant is due to stop building cars early next year, which would mean it would be dark for an extended period.

The strike has been the largest at a US business since the last strike at GM in 2007. But that strike was over within three days. This is has been the longest major strike in the auto industry in more than 20 years.

It could be difficult to win rank-and-file approval for the deal, although strikers will probably want to return to work after missing four weeks of paychecks. But membership has been known to reject tentative agreements reached by union leaders. That happened in the last round of auto contract talks four years ago when members at Fiat Chrysler rejected the initial deal presented to them.

The strike halted work at 31 GM factories and 21 other facilities spread across nine states, mostly in the middle of the United States. It also led to layoffs at other GM plants in Mexico and Canada that had to shut because of the disruption in their supply chains. Many of the 10,000 US suppliers that provide auto parts and other goods and services to GM laid off staff as well. That may have idled as many as 200,000 additional workers at those companies, according to estimates.

If the strike does end in coming days, GM will have lost about $1.9 billion in profit, said according to Anderson Economic Group, and that strikers will have lost about $800 million in wages. Last weekend, the union raised strike benefits 10%, to $275 a week, but that’s still far less than the more than $30 an hour that veteran workers receive when on the job at GM.

Article Topic Follows: Biz/Tech

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