As we’ve mentioned in August the United Auto Workers union contracts with FCA, Ford, and GM are up for renewal this month.
It is known that tensions between the UAW and GM are high because it has the least amount of union workers and has announced plans to idle four plants in America while shifting production to Mexico, according to the Detroit Free Press.
What It Means
Yesterday the UAW voted in favor of a strike authorization. This doesn’t mean a strike will happen. It means the UAW members have authorized the UAW president and executive board to call for a strike if negotiations with GM sour.
“No one goes into collective bargaining taking a strike lightly,” says UAW President Gary Jones. “But it is a key tool in the tool belt as our bargaining team sits across from the company. Ultimately, the company holds that destiny in their hands as they bargain.”
UAW Concessions 10 Years Ago
The UAW made concessions with GM and FCA 10 years ago when the two companies filed for bankruptcy. “Clearly the UAW stood up for them in a very dark time,” Jones says. “Now that they are profitable it is time for them to stand up for all of us.”
UAW negotiations are always important because of the number of families affected, the importance of the auto industry to the US, but especially so this year due to the plant closings. Another factor unique to these negotiations is the recent FBI and IRS raids of a number of current and former UAW Presidents’ homes and two UAW sites.
FBI IRS Raids of UAW Officials
So far nine people have been charged and eight guilty pleas have been announced amounting to millions of dollars in misspent funds. These charges include UAW-GM operations and involve contract kickbacks.
Negotiations with GM will be used as a guide for the UAW’s negotiations with Ford and FCA, so there is a lot at stake with these first talks. There are 150,000 workers represented by the UAW at Ford, GM, and FCA. The “yes” votes to authorize a strike amounted to 95.98% of workers in favor at Ford, 94.4% at GM, and 96% at FCA. The current contract ends on September 14.
“Mary Barra (GM President) said from the outset of these talks that we will stand up (together) as we tackle a changing industry,” Jones says. “We are ready to stand strong for our future. We are focussed, we are prepared, and we are all ready to stand up for our members, our communities, and our manufacturing future.”
GM responded with, “We look forward to having constructive discussions with the UAW on reaching an agreement that builds with a strong future for our employees and our business.”
The authorization to strike is procedural and is intended to show the companies the widespread agreement between members that if necessary it will most likely strike. So, it’s a negotiation tool for the UAW.
Worst GM Strikes
Strikes against GM have been some of the worst in all of UAW history. The first was the infamous Flint “sit down strike” in 1936-1937. This was only a year after the UAW formed in 1935. No bathroom breaks and 12-14 hour days, six days a week led to the strike. It was said heat exhaustion in July of 1936 killed hundreds of workers.
The 1945-1946 GM strike included railroad workers, miners, and meat packers, totaling 5 million workers. This came just after the war effort was done, and it helped to establish Walter Reuther as president of the UAW in 1946.
The 1998 Flint strike stopped production at over 30 GM plants and hundreds of parts plants because of lay-offs of almost 200,000 non-union workers. GM lost $2.3 billion in profits and America’s gross national product figure dropped by a full one percent. Since this strike, GM has shuttered production in Flint with just a few thousand workers manufacturing trucks there.