UAW threatens a walkout

UAW threatens a walkout at GM after contract expires

Monitoring Desk

DETROIT: The United Auto Workers (UAW) turned up the pressure on General Motors Co, threatening a strike by Sunday night if the company does not agree to its terms and ordering 850 maintenance workers at five GM facilities to walk off the job.

After the union’s four-year contract with GM expired without agreement on a new pact, the UAW said in a statement Sunday “if GM refuses to give even an inch to help hard-working UAW members and their families then we’ll see them on the picket lines tonight.”

The union has been fighting to stop GM from closing auto assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan and arguing that workers deserve higher pay after years of record profits for GM in North America. GM officials have said 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 the southern United States.

A broad strike by the union would be the first such action at GM in 12 years and would test both the union and GM Chief Executive Mary Barra at a time when the US auto industry is facing a slowdown in sales, and rising costs for launching electric vehicles and curbing emissions. Earlier on Sunday, the UAW said maintenance workers employed by GM contractor Aramark would strike at five GM plants in Michigan and Ohio.

The UAW said the Aramark workers have been in negotiations since March 2018, and the company and union are at odds over pay and benefits. At GM’s Flint, Michigan, assembly plant, which just launched a new heavy-duty pickup, UAW Local 598 leaders told members employed directly by GM they should report to work, crossing picket lines set up by fellow Local 598 members who work for Aramark. But union members could choose not to cross those lines.

The Flint heavy-duty pickup is vital to GM’s profits. The UAW could call local strikes that target plants critical to production of large pickups and sport utility vehicles as an alternative to a company-wide strike that would more quickly drain union strike funds.

UAW leaders signaled they remain far from a settlement with GM on a range of issues, including the future of four US factories the company has indicated it will close.

“We still have many outstanding issues remaining, including significant differences (with GM)… on wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice president who handles relations with GM, wrote in a letter to union officials issued late Saturday before the contract expired.

GM responded in a statement.

“We continue to work hard on solutions to some very difficult challenges,” GM said. “We are prepared to negotiate around the clock.”

On Friday, the UAW announced temporary contract extensions with Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) while it focused its attention on GM. The union had targeted GM as the first automaker with which it wanted to conclude contract talks.

This year’s talks had been expected to be contentious but have been complicated by recent developments in a longstanding federal investigation into corruption at the union. The probe has raised questions about UAW President Gary Jones, who was identified as an unnamed official mentioned in a searing federal complaint this week detailing alleged embezzlement by union leaders. (Reuters)

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