UAW says GM strike to continue until workers vote on deal

Detroit, Oct 18 (AFP/APP): Striking workers at General Motors will not return to work until the full union membership votes on a new contract, a spokesman for the United Auto Workers said Thursday.

After a lengthy meeting, the UAW GM National Council voted to send a tentative deal with GM to the workforce. Ratification is expected by October 25, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.

The council meeting, which included local chapter representatives, came one day after the union announced a preliminary agreement with the automaker to end a strike launched on September 16.

The walkout has become the longest strike at GM in more than two decades as the two sides negotiated over pay, health benefits and the status of shuttered factories.

“We are pleased to announce that thanks to your solidarity and sacrifice, we have achieved gains toward all of these bargaining priorities,” the UAW said in a summary of the deal.

Key UAW selling points to workers include: an $11,000 ratification bonus to workers; wage increases of three and four percent throughout the four-year contract; no increases in health care costs; and a path to permanent worker status within four years or less.

But the preliminary deal largely came up short of union demands after GM in November 2018 effectively shuttered plants in Michigan, Ohio and Maryland by “un allocating” investment from the facilities.

The UAW said the deal guarantees that a plant in Detroit will remain open “with new product,” but said plants Baltimore, Warren, Michigan and Lordstown, Ohio will close. An additional plant in Fontana, California is also slated for closure, the UAW document said.

“We remain strongly opposed to GM’s decision to ‘un allocate’ these plants and we will continue our efforts to fight for UAW jobs in America,” the UAW said.

GM urged workers to approve the agreement.

“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,” GM said in a statement.

GM said the agreement “reflects our commitment to US manufacturing through the creation of new jobs and increased investment,” but the UAW summary did not mention a specific pledge by GM on new jobs or investment levels.

GM said on the eve of the strike that its offer included more than $7 billion in investment to support more than 5,400 jobs.

GM workers struggle with daily expenses

– Closures ‘tough pill to swallow’ –

Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan, said the preliminary deal amounted to wins for the union on key wage and benefits issues, but GM’s decision to move ahead with plant closures was “a tough pill to swallow.”

She also said the lack of specific spending commitments by GM was a surprise.

Union members typically ratify labor pacts following approval of the National Council, but there have been exceptions, such as in 2015 when workers at Fiat Chrysler rejected a contract, she said.

Labor experts have viewed the vote of the full UAW membership as more of a wildcard this time than usual due to a corruption probe that has resulted in US criminal charges against about a dozen UAW officials.

The case let to an FBI raid of the home of UAW President Gary Jones in August.

The contract agreement appeared to put a final nail in the coffin on the Lordstown plant, whose plight has been highlighted occasionally by US President Donald Trump, though he has not commented on GM since the strike began.

Rothenberg said the fate of Lordstown is open to further negotiation around a GM commitment to develop a battery plant in the area or the sale of the plant to a new owners.

“Some of these investments are not under the master agreement,” Rothenberg said.

But the deal disappointed a group of Lordstown workers who ventured to Detroit Thursday, including John Debanardo, a 25-year veteran of the plant.

“We had 4,500 workers at Lordstown, before GM started cutting. First the third shift and then the second and then they closed the plant,” he said. “GM doesn’t want to be in the car business.”

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