UAW, GM negotiators make progress in talks to end strike

As striking workers picketed idled General Motors plants for a 10th day on Wednesday, negotiators for the company and the United Auto Workers union made progress in reaching a deal to end the nation’s biggest strike in more than a decade, according to people familiar with the talks.

Importantly, some issues involving individual GM plants have been resolved or are close to resolution, the sources said.

That mostly leaves the so-called national issues, including those involving pay and benefits for GM’s nearly 50,000 hourly workers. Those are typically the last to be settled before a tentative labor deal can be reached. The two sides have been talking about those national issues since formal negotiations started in July.

A final agreement can come together quickly in a strike. Any tentative deal needs the approval of union members, though the strike could end before a vote.

“I don’t want to get hopes up but there has been progress,” said one person familiar with the talks.

The strike started on September 16, idling 31 GM factories and 21 other facilities in nine states. It is the largest strike at a US business since the last GM strike 12 years ago. That earlier strike only lasted about two days.

Spokespersons for both the union and the company wouldn’t comment on progress, but both said negotiators went late into the night Tuesday and were back at the table Wednesday.

General Motors has said its offer to the union includes the promise to invest $7 billion at its US plants over the four years of the contract, creating or saving 5,400 jobs. The company said it also offered wage increases or lump sum payments in each of the four years of the contract, as well as improved profit sharing.

The union argues that it members deserve to be compensated for sacrifices they made that helped keep the company alive through the bankruptcy and federal bailout 10 years ago. A top issue for the union is its desire to limit the use of temporary workers, who are paid far less and have fewer benefits than permanent employees.

The union has made it clear that it wants promises from GM to find products to build at some or all of the four US plants that GM plans to close.

Three of the plants — an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore — have already gone dark. The fourth, the Hamtramck assembly plant in Detroit, is still operating but is slated to halt production early next year. The four plants employed about 3,000 hourly workers when the shutdown plans were first announced in November 2018. GM said it has found jobs for 2,300 of those workers at other facilities, although many of those people had to relocate to stay employed.

A source familiar with the company’s offer to the union said GM is offering to build electric pickup trucks in Detroit and batteries for electric vehicles in Lordstown. But it is offering to pay those workers about $17 an hour, far less of what veteran workers at most other GM factories are paid. And the work is not expected to start immediately, meaning those plants could stay dark for an extended period. The union is pressing GM to build some of the vehicles in Mexico at the US plants.

The striking workers became eligible for a union strike benefit of $250 a week once the strike entered its eighth day on Monday. That’s a fraction of the normal pay for workers whom GM said earn an average of $90,000 a year, including overtime and profit sharing.

The longer the strike lasts, the more GM suppliers are forced to lay off workers who can no longer produce the parts and other supplies normally sold to GM. The company said it has 10,000 US supplier contracts.