With GM strike in 18th day, union reports progress at Ford

UAW strikes against GM (Source: MGN)
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DETROIT (AP) -- While an auto workers strike against General Motors continues in its 18th day, a top union bargainer reported that talks with Ford are going well.

In a letter to union members Thursday, United Auto Workers Vice President Rory Gamble says 18 of 20 subcommittees have reached tentative agreements or are waiting for a pattern to be set with GM before settling large economic issues.

Gamble says he can't disclose details but says negotiations are progressing.

He says setting a pattern is the best chance for a strong agreement, but negotiating that pattern can delay bargaining with the other automakers.

The union picked GM as its target to start negotiations, and about 49,000 GM workers went on strike against the company Sept. 16, halting all U.S. production.

A General Motors contract offer to striking union members has wage increases or lump-sum payments in all four years.

But a person briefed on the offer says it was rejected because it took money from other places to fund profit sharing and didn't give temporary workers a clear path to a full-time job.

Still, the offer made late Monday is likely to be the framework for whatever agreement is reached to end the strike by the workers that has halted production in the U.S. and severely cut output in Mexico and Canada.

A different person says much of what the union objected to has been removed or is being bargained.

Neither person wanted to be identified because the talks are confidential.

On Monday night, General Motors passed a proposal across the bargaining table in hopes of ending the strike with UAW workers.

However, the proposal that the company provided at 9:40 p.m. did not satisfy the GM striker's contract demands or needs, according to the UAW.

Many areas came up short on the proposal such as health care, wages, temporary employees, skilled trades, and job security.

Back on Oct. 1, UAW officials responded with a counter-proposal in the form of a letter and are awaiting GM's next move.

The Union stated that they appreciate the sacrifices of the workers, and that they remain committed to exploring all options in order to reach an agreement that meets the needs of the membership.

Roughly 49,000 workers at General Motors plants in the U.S. went on strike just before midnight on September 16.

About 200 plant-level union leaders voted unanimously in favor of a walkout during a meeting Sunday morning in Detroit.

Union leaders said the sides were still far apart on several major issues.

"We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most," union Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement, referring to union concessions that helped GM survive bankruptcy protection in 2009. "Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our members."

With the strike, picketers have shut down a total of 53 GM facilities, including 33 manufacturing sites and 22 parts distribution warehouses. GM has factories in Michigan, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas.

The strike has brought to a halt GM's U.S. production, and has likely stopped the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well.

That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.

Here are the main areas of disagreement:

— GM is making big money, $8 billion last year alone, and workers want a bigger slice. The union wants annual pay raises to guard against an economic downturn, but the company wants to pay lump sums tied to earnings. Automakers don't want higher fixed costs.

— The union also wants new products for the four factories GM wants to close. The factory plans have irked some workers, although most of those who were laid off will get jobs at other GM factories. GM currently has too much U.S. factory capacity.

— The companies want to close the labor cost gap with workers at plants run by foreign automakers. GM pays $63 per hour in wages and benefits compared with $50 at the foreign-owned factories. GM's gap is the largest at $13 per hour, followed by Ford at $11 and Fiat Chrysler at $5, according to figures from the Center for Automotive Research.

— Union members have great health insurance plans and workers pay about 4% of the cost. Employees at large firms nationwide pay about 34%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The automakers would like to cut costs.

Over the last two weeks, strikers have received support from the Governor, educators, other politicians and businesses.

Which is good for the strikers who are no longer receiving a paycheck from GM, but are on strike pay which is only $250 a week.

"Literally, you're not getting by. That's sub-poverty. It's a boost, but it's not going to take care of their needs and what they've got going on," Chuck Inman, a UAW Local 659 publicist said.

"This is the longest I've ever been out on strike,” said Mark Altvater who has been through four strikes in his 41-years with GM.

Altvater says this time, the strike feels different.

"By far the most overwhelming public and business support that we've ever received. Sometimes we've gotten support may be at the very beginning and then a day or two in all of a sudden the negative comes out. The support just keeps continuing and it's been wonderful," said Altvater.

And besides the pay, there was the issue of health care.

GM informed the union that it was canceling insurance for striking workers in mid-September.

However, on September 26, the company flipped saying workers would not have any disruption to their medical, dental, vision and prescription coverage.

Union leadership said that GM's actions were irresponsible and a local state representative agreed.

"One day you have health care, the next, because of something that's completely out of your control, you don't have health insurance. They need to figure it out, because someone's health is not something you play around with when you're bargaining," Representative Sarah Anthony said.

Senator Gary Peters stood with the strikers on Oct. 1 in Lansing at the Grand River Plant.

He stands with the Michigan workers as they fight for better wages and benefits.

He adds that when the auto industry was in crisis, workers and their families stepped up in the spirit of shared sacrifice and they and their families deserve to share the prosperity during periods of profitability.

This is the first national strike by the UAW since 2007, when the union shut down General Motors for two days.

Negotiations with GM are continuing.

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