By Jim Newell
The United Automobile Workers union went on strike at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 15 after contract negotiations between the union and General Motors broke down.
At the Orion Assembly plant on Giddings Road in Orion Township, UAW workers were on the picket lines on Monday, toting “UAW On Strike” signs and marching in solidarity with their colleagues and the nearly 50,000 UAW employees across the nation who are on strike.
Gerald Lang is the vice president of UAW Local 5960, the local union to which the union employees of the Orion Assembly plant are members.
“We’re out here standing up against General Motors and the actions they take against the American workforce. Right now, you’ve got General Motors, as a corporation over the last four years, has made $27.5 billion dollars. They now have more workers in China than in the United States. They also build at least 30 percent of their products in Mexico,” Lang said. “If you’re looking for an all-American company, how can you say that when your actions don’t show it?”
On Sunday, General Motors issued a statement regarding the then-impending strike:
“We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways and it is disappointing that the UAW leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight. We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business.”
The UAW announced the strike on its website on Sunday.
“We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most. Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our Members, their families and the communities where we work and live,” said UAW Vice President Terry Dittes on the UAW website.
The UAW said its membership would go on strike at midnight Sunday to “secure fair wages, affordable healthcare, our share of profits, job security and a defined path to permanent seniority for temps.”
The decision to strike comes a day after Dittes notified General Motors leadership that the Union would not agree to extend the collective bargaining agreements, according to the UAW.
On Monday afternoon, General Motors published an updated statement on its website stating that, “Negotiations have resumed. Our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a strong future for our employees and our business.”
GM also released some details of its offer for a new four-year contract, which the automaker said included more than $7 billion in investments and more than 5,400 Jobs, Best-in-Class Wages and Benefits, wage or lump sum increases in all four years, investments in eight facilities in four states, introduction of all-new electric trucks and an improved profit-sharing formula.
But GM also proposed having workers contribute 15 percent toward healthcare, up from the reported three percent workers are currently paying.
Contract talks began July 16 in Detroit when the UAW and GM opened 2019 contract talks on a new national agreement to replace the current four-year agreement that expired at midnight Sept. 14.
Lang said he wants people to know that the UAW workers are integral to the automaker’s success.
“We’re the producers of a salable product that puts money is everybody’s paychecks. I mean, that’s what we do – no matter what, our labor sells products. And that’s where they make profits from. General Motors wants to utilize high temporary workforce, which has zero sustainability for a family. So, how can you do that and then say you’re an all-American company?”
The Orion Assembly plant produces the Chevrolet Sonic, Chevrolet Bolt EV and Cruise AV test vehicles, according to GM facilities information on the plant. Orion Assembly has also received a 2019 Consumer Reports Top Pick for the Chevrolet Bolt EV and a 2019 JD Power and Associates TOP VDS Small Car Segment Leader for the Sonic.
Lang said what the UAW and its workers are asking for is a fair request, given GM’s profits over the past four years.
“You can’t cry broke after making $27.5 billion over four years,” Lang said. “Which is what we’ve accomplished for them since 2010 since their bankruptcy. We’ve given and we’ve given. This plant, specifically, came under a competitive operating agreement just to have this plant open for a small car (production). The small car is going to phased out next year. We’re into an electric market. They want to talk about contributions and different things for the electric market: they’ve promised 23 cars for the last four years and we haven’t seen anything here. The Chevy Bolt, we’ve had that for probably 3-4 years.”
Lang said the strike could also have an impact on local businesses beyond the Orion plant.
“Well, you’ve got to talk about businesses. We’ve got fine businesses all over here, from the pizza places that we order lunch from, to the gas stations to wherever…we’re going to be out (of work), we’re not going to be here. So, the money, the economy in Lake Orion is not going to be there. The money is not going to filter through for the duration as long as we’re out,” Lang said.
According to information on the UAW website, union workers will make $250 per week in strike pay.
“Health benefits are big thing. As we go to a more temporary workforce that they want to utilize…one of their proposals was 15 percent payment from autoworkers. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but at the same time, how do you offset that with nothing a temporary workforce? So, it just doesn’t add up to what they would be gaining compared to what the American lower-middle class workforce wouldn’t get,” Lang said.
State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) issued a statement supporting the UAW workers at the Orion Assembly plant and their fight for a fair contract:
“I stand in full support of workers who are striking to secure fair wages, affordable health care and job security. The hours these folks work, the manual labor they put in, and the passion they bring to their jobs is a testament to their dedication to the Michigan auto industry, and a commitment to this state’s ability to grow and thrive. Michigan was built by unions, and strong unions are key to the prosperity of our state and our families.”
Bayer represents the 12th Senate District, which includes Orion Township.
Lang said the union always hopes a strike will only last for a short duration.
“All the time. I was told by some higher seniority guys years ago that you never really want this to happen but it’s got to happen at some time,” said Lang, who has been with GM for 12 years, with 19 years seniority. “The offer that they put out two hours before the deadline, that’s as far as they came. We had no opportunity to look at anything feasible, or even competent from their goals, until two hours before the deadline.”