UAW Members at General Motors Ratify Contract – The New York Times

Members of the United Automobile Workers union have backed new contracts with the three major U.S. automakers, agreements that provide steep wage increases and other benefits that had eluded the union for more than 20 years.

In the most hotly contested vote, General Motors’ tentative contract agreement won the support of 55 percent of the nearly 36,000 members who voted, according to a tally of all GM locals released Thursday by the union.

Preliminary agreements with Ford Motor and Stellantis, maker of brands such as Jeep and Chrysler, appeared to be at a much greater margin for approval as they reported near-complete results.

A union spokesman confirmed the figures were accurate but declined further comment.

The agreements are similar across all three automakers and increase the top wage for production workers by 25 percent, from $32 to more than $40 over four and a half years. They were reached last month after a six-week wave of strikes that hobbled companies – a strategy spearheaded by the union’s new leader, Shawn Fain, who had vowed to take a more adversarial approach to negotiations than his predecessors.

The agreements appear to have quickly gained traction across the auto industry, with Toyota, Hyundai and Honda announcing significant wage increases at non-union plants across the United States just days later.

“We call this the UAW bump, and that stands for ‘U Are Welcome,’” Mr. Fain said this week in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “And we are very proud of that. And when these workers choose to organize and join the UAW, they will see the full benefits of union membership and get what they fully deserve.”

Mr Fain said the union was trying to capitalize on its momentum by mounting vigorous campaigns to organize in non-union workplaces, and in remarks submitted to the committee, he added that thousands of workers had already contacted the union union and signed union cards.

But even Mr. Fain’s tough approach in talks with the Big Three did not result in attractive terms for many union members. GM workers at several major factories voted overwhelmingly against the tentative agreement.

In contrast, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently approved a new contract with United Parcel Service with 86 percent approval, while a new contract between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios was approved with 99 percent approval.

Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, said Mr. Fain had won a major victory even though he had taken office just months earlier with the goal of reorienting the union.

She said the union’s approach of first striking at a few plants and then striking over time had “really turned a lot of conventional wisdom on its head” in the labor movement and proved unusually successful in reversing some of the concessions that had been made the union had accepted years earlier, such as suspending a cost-of-living adjustment.

“Employers have really assumed that once they get rid of something, they don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Dr. Givan. “It shows that if workers build enough power, they can win things back.”

In some respects, the relatively narrow scope for ratification could strengthen the union’s position in future negotiations. Dr. Givan said this showed workers’ expectations were high and would lend credence to the union’s claims that it could not settle for a weak tariff.

“It shows employers that they are serious when the bargaining committee sits at the table and says, ‘My members will never accept this offer,’” she said.

UAW members at Mack Truck also ratified a contract Wednesday after rejecting an initial agreement with the company.

At all three automakers, much of the skepticism about the deals came from veteran workers who felt the proposed contracts didn’t go far enough to compensate them for years of concessions and weak wage growth, even though the contracts delivered strong gains for new workers.

Huey Harris, a GM employee at a large truck assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, who has worked for the company for more than 20 years, said the deal should have gone further by rewarding experienced workers, although he ultimately voted for it. “The traditional people thought they weren’t given enough in the contract,” he said.

Several long-time employees of the big three automakers said that even after the big gains from the new contract, they would earn no more than they did at the start of their careers.

Curtis March, who works at the Ford assembly plant in Chicago, said he was making about $18 an hour when he reached the company’s maximum wage for production workers in the early 1990s, which, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to more than $40 today. He will make about $36 in the first year of the new contract.

Mr. March said the Ford deal was likely to go through because it appeased younger employees who outnumbered veterans like himself.

The path to ratification of the contract involved some internal stress for Mr. Fain and the union. Unite All Workers for Democracy, a reform group that played a key role in electing Mr. Fain and six other UAW board members to their positions, declined to formally recommend that union members approve the contract, even after Mr. Fain did group to do so. Three people familiar with the meeting said they did so at a recent meeting. Instead, Unite All Workers passed a resolution committing to remaining neutral in the ratification vote. However, it said the group was “celebrating the record profits achieved through this agreement”.

Two of those people also said that the union’s General Motors division had been less communicative and proactive in disseminating information about the contract to local union officials and members than the Ford and Stellantis divisions.

The union declined to comment on these developments.

Some autoworkers argued that the union also made a mistake by failing to expand the strike even further. The union began the strike at three plants – one owned by each automaker – and eventually expanded it to include about a third of the companies’ hourly workers in the United States

LaDonna Newman, another longtime Ford worker who opposed the contract because it provided limited benefits for veteran workers, said she believes the union could have gained more at the bargaining table if it led to further escalation would have been ready.

Still, she did not blame Mr. Fain for the outcome. “He walked into a burning building,” Ms. Newman said. “I give him great praise for having the courage to take action against the corporations.”

Sophia Lada contributed reporting.


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