General Motors workers call first nationwide strike in 12 years

September 16, 2019 07:51
General Motors workers carry strike signs outside the United Auto Workers local office in Westland, Michigan, on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The United Auto Workers (UAW) said its roughly 48,000 hourly workers at General Motors facilities would go on strike as of midnight on Sunday after US labor contract talks reached an impasse, the first nationwide strike at GM in 12 years, Reuters reports.

“We do not take this lightly,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice president in charge of the union’s relationship with GM, said at a news conference in downtown Detroit. “This is our last resort.”

GM said in a statement that its offer to the UAW during talks included more than US$7 billion in new investments, 5,400 jobs – a majority of which would be new – pay increases, improved benefits and a contract-ratification bonus of US$8,000.

“We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” the automaker said.

Late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!” GM spokesman Tony Cervone said the automaker “couldn’t agree more” with Trump’s call.

A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy. A prolonged industrial action would also cause hardship for GM hourly workers on greatly reduced strike pay.

GM’s workers last went out on a brief two-day strike in 2007 during contract talks. A more painful strike occurred in Flint, Michigan, in 1998, lasting 54 days and costing the No. 1 US automaker more than US$2 billion.

Talks were set to resume on Monday at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) and no further talks are scheduled on Sunday before the strike is set to begin, a union spokesman and GM said.

The union has been fighting to stop GM from closing auto assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, and arguing workers deserve higher pay after years of record profits for GM in North America.

GM argues the plant shutdowns are necessary responses to market shifts, and that UAW wages and benefits are expensive compared with competing non-union auto plants in southern US states. In its statement, the automaker said its offer to the union included solutions for the Michigan and Ohio assembly plants currently lacking products.

A person familiar with GM’s offer said that could include producing a future electric vehicle in Detroit.

It could also include turning a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, into an electric vehicle battery plant or going through with the proposed sale of the plant to a group affiliated with electric vehicle start-up Workhorse Group Inc.

A new battery plant could give some UAW workers at Lordstown the chance to remain with GM.

The closure of Lordstown drew widespread criticism, including from U.S. President Trump, who met with GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on Sept. 5. Ohio is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.

But several Democratic presidential candidates said they backed the UAW, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Tim Ryan.

Sanders noted GM received a US-taxpayer-funded US$50 billion bailout a decade ago. “Our message to General Motors is a simple one: End the greed, sit down with the UAW and work out an agreement that treats your workers with the respect and the dignity they deserve,” Sanders said in a statement.

Biden said on Twitter he backed the UAW’s demand for “fair wages and benefits for their members. America’s workers deserve better”.

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