Despite Many Gains, TA Hardly a Slam Dunk
By MYA SHONE
Garnering a majority vote of union members to ratify the tentative agreement (TA) that the UAW leadership reached with General Motors on Oct. 16 is anything but a slam dunk. For over a month, 48,000 autoworkers have been walking picket lines at 55 plants and parts depots in 19 states across the United States.
Their goal is to beat back prior concessions of two-tier pay scales and temporary workers to regain the union’s commitment to equal pay for equal work. Above all, workers must reverse the hemorrhage of plant closings, as GM, taking advantage of NAFTA, shifts production to Mexico. The contract with GM would set the pattern to follow with Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, the other components of the Detroit Big 3, the largest automakers in the U.S.
UAW leadership knows that this TA is a hard sell even as improvements on many bread-and-butter issues are touted to the membership. Highlighted are that:
- The health plan will remain intact with no additional cost to members.
- Wages will increase with a 4% lump sum in the first and third years and 3% in the second and fourth years for eligible permanent employees, plus profit-sharing bonuses will be tied to GM’s North American profits.
- Temporary workers with three years on the job will convert to permanent positions.
- The in-progression time to reach max pay for those covered by the two-tier system will be halved from eight years to four and will top out at $32.32 an hour, the same as longtime employees.
- To nudge longtime permanent workers with higher wages, defined pensions, and retiree health benefits out the door, GM offered golden parachutes.
- Finally, GM sweetened the deal with a signing bonus of $11,000 for seniority employees as well as a bonus of $4,500 for active temporary employees, which will more than cover the average lost wages during the strike.
The Down Side of the TA
Despite the stakes, the union couldn’t get GM to budge on the primary issue of plant closures and retaining production in the U.S. GM held fast to a paltry $7.7 billion investment in U.S. factories. This won’t go far to preserve jobs, let alone create more of them. Almost one-half of the proposed investment will be used to gear up the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly for electric-pickup truck production. Two transmission plants, in Michigan and Maryland, as well as the Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant, still will be abandoned.
Instead, Reuters reported on Oct. 17 that, “GM has said it plans to sell the Lordstown plant to a group affiliated with electric truck startup Workhorse Group Inc. that would initially employ 400 people – barely a tenth of the workforce Lordstown had when it was operating on three shifts.”
GM also confirmed plans for an electric battery factory near the shuttered Lordstown complex. While eventually 1,000 UAW-represented workers may be employed, the wage rate would be no more than $15 to $17 an hour.
The UAW historically has been a union steeped in struggle and committed to organizing. It knows that workers cannot do well without wall-to-wall representation and industry-wide unionization. To survive, the UAW must push back against contracting out as well as overcome its three major defeats in the South. It must thrust itself once again into organizing all autoworkers.
Everyone, let alone the UAW, also understands clearly that U.S. workers cannot compete with the $1.90 an hour that GM paid hourly workers in its Mexico plants in 2016. The stakes are huge and the time is long overdue for the UAW to break with the Democrats and mobilize its members to defeat the US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) “free trade” agreement.