Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and General Motors Company showed some signs of progress this week as a strike by more than 49,000 employees extended into a second day.
The walkout brought more than 50 factories and parts warehouses to a standstill in the union’s first strike against the U.S. automaker in over a decade. Workers left factories and formed picket lines shortly after midnight Monday in the dispute over a new four-year contract.
“They are talking, they’ve made progress, we’ll see how long it takes,'” said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the UAW.
One of the main sticking points is health care. GM is looking to cut its costs, but workers say they shouldn’t have to pay more because the company is making billions in profits. Union workers pay about four per cent of their health-care costs, but employees of large companies in the U.S. pay an average of 34 per cent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Tina Black, who finishes up 10-speed automatic transmissions at a GM engine and transmission factory in the Detroit suburb of Romulus, said health insurance is the most important issue to her and she doesn’t want GM to change anything. The factory workers, she said, work 10-12 hours doing the same repetitive tasks, which can cause injuries.
“It breaks down your body,” said Black. “In order to take care of ourselves, we need that.”
On Sunday, GM said it offered pay raises and $7 billion worth of U.S. factory investments resulting in 5,400 new positions, a minority of which would be filled by existing employees. The company also said it offered higher profit sharing, “nationally leading” health benefits and an $8,000 payment to each worker upon ratification.
Gary Chaison, professor emeritus of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, expects the strike to end within a week. He sees it as more of a message to show how effective the union is, especially for non-union workers who might be asked to join the UAW.
GM’s offers, he said, seem to be pretty good, so the strike is a mystery to him. “I can’t see a prolonged strike coming out of this. I think there’s too much to lose and not enough to gain.”