DETROIT — UAW leaders on Thursday voted to extend the union’s national strike against General Motors — now in its 32nd day — until members ratify a tentative agreement, leaving hopes of restarting production at affected Ontario plants in doubt.
Following a 6 1/2-hour meeting of the UAW’s GM national council here, union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said the council voted to send the deal for ratification and to keep members on picket lines until the deal is ratified. He said informational meetings will begin on Saturday, and voting should be completed in eight days, or next Friday, Oct. 25.
The union and automaker on Wednesday reached a tentative agreement that includes a total $9 billion in investments by GM, a commitment to keep open the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and a path for temporary workers to gain full-time status, among other gains.
Union members can ratify the deal with a simple majority of members voting in favour.
IMPACT IN CANADA
General Motors Canada had hoped to resume Canadian operations quickly, now that the UAW and automaker have reached a tentative deal on a new four-year labour contract in the United States.
The strike by 46,000 hourly workers at 30 GM plants in the United States crippled auto production and supply chains in Canada and Mexico.
“We are working hard to get all three GM Canada plants back to normal operations as soon as possible, starting with our Oshawa plant which we expect to resume operations this Friday,” Jennifer Wright said in an email to the Canadian Press, before the UAW voted.
The strike led GM Canada to idle its vehicle assembly in Oshawa, Ont., where the previous-generation GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups undergo final assembly. The factory also produces the Chevrolet Impala.
Temporary layoffs in Oshawa started there on Sept. 20. Eventually, all but about 300 of the roughly 2,600 hundred employees there were furloughed during the strike.
About 700 of the 1,100 employees at the St. Catharines, Ont., Propulsion Plant, which supplies V8 and V6 engines to the GM supply chain throughout North America, were temporarily laid off Sept. 23.
Roughly 300 workers in Oshawa and 400 workers in St. Catharines continued to work, supplying the automaker’s CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., where the popular Chevrolet Equinox is made.
The plant shutdowns in Ontario, and subsequent production halts by suppliers to the plants, left as many as 5,000 workers temporarily laid off in the province.
The UAW’s tentative agreement with GM would give full-time hourly workers a signing bonus of $11,000 (all figures in USD), provide wage or lump-sum pay increases of at least three per-cent annually and allow new hires to reach top wages in four years instead of eight, according to a summary of the deal provided by the union.
During the Thursday meeting, UAW leaders were going through the contract summary page-by-page, with considerable debate about job security and three plants slated for closure, a person with knowledge of the meeting told Automotive News. Unlike the summaries from prior contracts, this year’s “highlighter” does not contain any details about plant investments or product commitments GM is making.
Union officials also raised concerns about their members going back to work while UAW-represented janitorial workers remained on strike against GM, a person familiar with the matter said. The union was still negotiating with Aramark, the vendor that employs those workers, earlier in the day, but reached a temporary agreement with the company by late Thursday afternoon.
Details about the tentative deal with Aramark workers were not immediately available. Union officials earlier were concerned about asking rank-and-file to cross their own union's picket lines, the person said.
The tentative contract with GM, if ratified, would result in all current workers earning at least $32.32 an hour by September 2023. Temporary workers would have a path to becoming full-time employees, the summary said.
Profit-sharing payouts would no longer be capped at $12,000 annually, though the formula for calculating them would not change. Health care coverage also is unchanged.
GM also will contribute $1,000 to the pensions of workers hired prior to 2007 who still are eligible for that benefit and is offering $60,000 bonuses to up to 2,060 workers eligible for retirement who leave the company in January or February.
NO MORE TRAINING CENTRE
Part of the agreement also includes dissolving the union and automaker’s jointly-run training center. The building that houses the UAW-GM training center in Detroit "will be sold and the company will provide a building for joint activities and training. Funds remaining from dissolving the (training center) and building sale will be used for going forward joint activities," the union memo said. Automotive News reported on Oct. 4 that the dismantling of the training center was among the issues at the bargaining table.
The UAW’s GM council, comprised of presidents and plant chairmen from around the country, was meeting Thursday morning in Detroit to vote on whether to recommend the deal to the full membership for approval. The council also is deciding whether to end the strike against GM, now in its 32nd day, or to keep workers on picket lines until the agreement is ratified.
GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, which was scheduled to end production in January, will remain open, the contract summary said.
But Lordstown Assembly in Ohio and transmission plants in Michigan and Maryland will be closed permanently. Workers from those plants will be offered several options for retirement bonuses, early retirement or buyouts of up to $75,000 and will not have to repay any relocation assistance they already have received.
A parts distribution center in Fontana, Calif., also will close if the contract is ratified, the agreement says. The operation employs 31 hourly and 24 salaried workers.
GM, in an emailed statement, said it remains committed to creating jobs in Ohio. The automaker said it would bring battery cell manufacturing operations to northeast Ohio, creating 1,000 new jobs. It also said it will move ahead with the sale of the Lordstown complex to Lordstown Motors Corp., a new company affiliated with Ohio-based Workhorse Group that "plans to build electric pickups for commercial fleet customers" and create 400 jobs at the site initially.
"These two initiatives are not covered under the proposed tentative agreement reached between the parties," the GM statement said.
GM said other Ohio initiatives announced in May for operations in Parma, Toledo and Daytona "remain on track" and are expected to create more than 450 jobs.
A group of Lordstown workers chanted to UAW leaders as they entered the meeting, “Lordstown matters. Invest in Lordstown.”
The workers were “short-changed” when GM idled the plant, said Missy Eckenrode, who was transferred to Wentzville Assembly in Missouri.
“They should allocate a product and keep products in the USA. We want to keep our jobs in our hometown where we've had lives,” she said.
Art Schwartz, a former GM negotiator who's now president of Labor and Economics Associates, said he thought the deal had a strong chance of being ratified by members.
“There’s a lot of money in there,” he said. “That $11,000 is going to look very tempting. Other than the fact they couldn’t save the three plants, they pretty much got what they wanted.”
ADVANCED TECH AGREEMENT
The UAW and GM also agreed to establish a national committee on advanced technology to “discuss the impact of future technologies on UAW members and address instances where bargaining unit work has shifted out of the unit due to new manufacturing processes,” according to the contract highlights.
The committee will tour GM’s tech centers to learn about the company’s long-term manufacturing vision, review upcoming electric and autonomous vehicles, review GM’s plans for new technology at UAW facilities and ensure that UAW members are properly trained before vehicle launches.
In April, GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker would build an electric full-size pickup. The company has said it plans to invest $8 billion to build electric and self-driving vehicles.
The union also said General Motors Components Holdings employees can now earn up to $22.50 after 96 months of work, up from $19.86 top wages now.
The GMCH subsidiary was created in 2009. Employees typically do work that had been previously done by suppliers and are paid a lower wage than traditional full-time workers.
Nick Bunkley and Greg Layson contributed to this report.