Some GM workers feel left out in the cold

GM and the UAW have reached a tentative agreement after a month-long strike. While the deal generally looks good for traditional GM employees, gaps remain between different tiers of workers, and several plant closures are going ahead. Previously, we had spoken to Lynn, a worker at a GM components plant in Rochester, NY. We reached out again for her reaction to the proposed agreement.

Tell me what you like and what you don’t like about the proposed agreement.

Keeping our health benefits as-is sounds great. We only pay the 3%. That works out really well. And the signing bonus. Those are the only two things I liked.

They never really fixed the temp issue. They’re still allowing temps to be hired. They are a three-year thing [now], then after three years they can become permanent. Or there is a path to it, but it’s really vague, and not set in stone. They also made it so that temps would progress to full wage in the regular GM system within four years, where the regular seniority employees, it will take them eight years. So temp workers will achieve full pay before even traditional workers do. So that doesn’t make any sense.

Job security – we did not achieve that whatsoever. There is nothing that allocates any work to any plant, really, and especially [not] ours. Last year, we got told in a plant-wide meeting that we lost our work, basically. We only have until 2021 worth of work left in our plant, at least fuel injector and fuel rail work, which is like 60% of our plant. We are retaining our intake manifold business, the other 40%. GM’s big push is to get away from fuel, and at our plant that’s what we do: fuel components. Intake manifold, fuel rails, and fuel injectors. So we don’t have any work lined up for us. And that was one of the reasons we were going on strike.

What do you think GM could or should be doing about that shutdown? What should the union be doing?

We should be trying to get new work into our plant. Our quality is amazing. [The union] really needs to work on the job security aspect. We lost our business because it’s being outsourced to Delphi, according to rumor. They are going to be doing the fuel rail and fuel injectors in China and Mexico.

We have all the means to do everything, they just want cheaper labor, and they don’t want to be in components. They just don’t want us, period. And I think the union should be hard-lining them to keep jobs here.

Because we are a components-building plant, they ignored anything for us. Nothing’s changed, we’ve gained nothing. A lot of us are like, why did GM even take us out on strike if they’re not going to bargain anything for us? We don’t get any raises. Or some of us don’t. We just continue with our 3% raise per year, which is usually like 30 cents. That’s what we got in the 2015 contract. As for benefits, we didn’t really gain anything that we didn’t have in the 2015 contract. We didn’t really gain anything here in Rochester.

What’s the mood on the picket line there? How popular or unpopular is the proposed agreement?

It’s is 100% unpopular. I haven’t heard anyone say they are cool with it at all. They’re out there picketing, but they’re not holding a UAW sign. [Ed note: the featured image is from a few days ago.]

I’m always a loyal unionist, and I’m glad to be a part of a union. It sucks that UAW didn’t go to bat for GMCH [GM Components Holdings] specifically. We just feel left out.

Why do you think they didn’t do more for you?

We’re not a main car manufacturing plant, we just do small components. They don’t think we are relevant. But I’ve been reminding everybody that we are relevant, because they can’t make pickup trucks or Corvettes right now without our labor. And I don’t understand why our negotiators don’t say that?

For regular GM employees, it seems like it’s a good deal for them. They have a good way to get to their full wage. That was very slow and gradual [before]. Instead it’s a shorter progression. It helps them achieve full pay at some point. So for them, I think they don’t see any loss. But I have been noticing that a lot of them are holding true to that solidarity [with us].

We were trying to get rid of a tiered wage. Now we have people in our contract making less depending on which plant they work at. Which is crappy. A lot the regular GM people are seeing that and are sympathetic towards us.

It just sucks that we feel left out and completely disregarded. If they weren’t going to negotiate for us, they should have just left us at work.

Will you be affected by the discontinuation in 2021?

Yes and no. I have a lot of seniority. I don’t know what that may bring for me. A lot of people are taking transfers to other plants because they don’t see any future here. That’s another downfall for us: if you take a transfer, you [component plants workers] lose all your seniority, and you have to start with a 2015 seniority date. So if I went, I would lose 10 years’ seniority. Seniority is a huge thing when you’re a union member: it’s the shift that you want, the job that you want. And I have a three-year-old. Transferring is not really an option for some people, like those with custody arrangements. Some people have an easier time doing it, but some people can’t.

How do you feel about the proposed contract in light of all the public money GM has received? In our last conversation, you said it never seems to trickle down to workers.

And that’s another component we need to think about. GM’s core values, one of them is that “we get involved in our communities, and we try to bring social and economic justice into our communities.” Our union says the same thing. Rochester has a very high poverty rate because of the decline in the Kodak sector. We are extremely poverty-ridden, and to not invest in a place that needs jobs is such a horrible thing to do to our community, who desperately needs these jobs to stay in Rochester so our poverty rate can improve. The government bailed GM out but they should bail Rochester out.

Marianne Garneau

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