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Here's what you need to know about the UAW strike

UAW workers went on strike in Flint Monday.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
UAW workers went on strike in Flint Monday.

The United Auto Workers union authorized a strike against General Motors Sunday - the first since 2007.

Negotiations between UAW and GM fell through over the weekend, and the union’s contract with the company expired midnight Saturday. Now, 46,000 union members are on strike while negotiations continue.

Listen above to hear Stateside's conversation with UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken about what this week's strike means for the American labor movment. 

Here’s what you need to know about what caused the strike, who’s impacted, and what to expect in the next few days.

Why General Motors?

UAW represents auto workers from all of the Big Three auto companies. So why are only GM workers striking?

The union renegotiates their contract every four years, and traditionally chooses one of the three automakers to negotiate with, and then that agreement is extended to the other two companies.

This time around, UAW went with GM. That wasn’t much of a surprise, considering the company’s recent decision to close four U.S. plants.

The contract deadline was midnight Saturday, and at that point it was fairly clear that a strike was likely.

But the strike only applies to GM workers. The union agreed to extend the contract with Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler, so those employees are still reporting to work.

Once an agreement is made with GM, that new contract will apply to Ford and Chrysler, as well.

What’s in dispute?

“It appears [UAW and GM] are pretty far apart at this point,” says Automotive News reporter Mike Martinez.

Union leadership said Saturday, "We still have many outstanding issues remaining, including significant differences between the parties on wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security, and profit sharing."

Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody spoke to workers that walked out of the Flint plant Monday.

“Different people have different priorities that they’re focused on,” he said.

Those priorities range from healthcare, raises, and benefits to job creation and security.

GM released a draft of what they offered the union Sunday, and it included creating jobs and opening plants, but apparently that wasn’t enough. Martinez says a company communicating through the media in a negotiation like this is unusual, but that GM felt like it had no other option.

“GM said that it offered more than $7 billion in investment. It said they would have offered to create or retain more than 5,400 jobs, and of that 5,400, they said a majority would be new,” Martinez explained on Stateside. “That included solutions for two of their four unallocated plants in the U.S., which is a very big sticking point for the union.”

That proposal was not enough to make up for union members’ many grievances.

Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton says, "They helped save the automaker from bankruptcy in 2009. They made a lot of concessions, and they feel with GM being as profitable as it is right now, it's time for the company to come back and help them out."

In an interview with NPR, UAW spokesperson Brian Rothenberg said only 2% of contract terms have been agreed upon, and that reaching an agreement on the rest of the terms is going to take a while.

Who is affected?

Of course, UAW workers and GM will be most directly affected by the strike.

Workers are being paid $250 per week during the strike, roughly one-third of their typical paychecks.

It will also have a major impact on GM, which could lose as much as $50 million for each day of the strike.

“If this drags on for a couple weeks, they could be impacted in terms of their vehicle inventory. They have about a 77 day supply of new cars and trucks, and for comparison, the industry average is about a 61 day supply, so they’re pretty much set,” says Mike Martinez.

“But there’s another wrinkle in all this, because the Teamsters said they’re standing in solidarity with UAW, and they’re going to refuse to deliver new vehicles to dealerships. So that could pinch dealers pretty quickly here.”

The strike could also have ripple effects through the state and national economy.

“When you start to think about that vast network of suppliers, that vast network of dealers who are trying to sell these cars... not to mention the 46,000 employees who will be living on $240 a week if this lasts beyond eight days, it could affect what people buy and how much people buy,” says Martinez.

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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