UAW to Detroit Three: Invest Record Profits in Workers

New United Auto Workers President Gary Jones kicked off bargaining with the “Detroit 3” car companies by saying that after years of worker sacrifices, followed by record profits at GM, Ford and FiatChrysler, it’s time for the firms to invest in their workers.

The talks, which started July 15, featured almost-identical remarks by Jones to the leaders of the car firms, except that he slammed GM for moving production to Mexico and told all three, but FiatChrysler in particular, that the eight-year progression from part-time work to the top of the pay scale must end.

That progression is common to all three car companies and it’s the biggest problem the UAW members at the firms discuss with union reps off the plant floor.

Jones repeated that message, including UAW’s determination to convert more part-timers to full-time employment, to all three firms. The union represents the 158,000 workers at the three car companies, which combined for $15 billion in net profits last year.

“We’re seeing record profit for our American companies, but it’s sad to say those gains aren’t really translating to our members,” Jones told the execs of all three firms. “Despite record profits, we’ve been watching a race to the bottom over the past several years for working men and women in this country.”

That “race” includes GM’s closure of plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland and shipment of the jobs to Mexico, he pointedly noted. One union goal is to get the firm to reopen those plants to make more in-demand vehicles, not keep them closed and offer the workers GM jobs elsewhere.

The firm offers “cuts in benefits, retirement security in jeopardy, job loss, wage loss, more and more temporary workers, shipping our jobs to Mexico and China. And outsourcing our good General Motors jobs to other companies paying lower wages in the United States,” Jones said.

“So, what I want to say today and what I want GM’s leadership to hear is: With this year’s negotiations, we will halt that race to the bottom,” Jones said. He repeated those lines to FiatChrysler and Ford execs, just changing firms. “We will protect this workforce, their jobs and their way of life.”

Relations between the car companies and the UAW have a nationwide impact. Car companies – both the Detroit 3 and foreign “transplants” – plus parts suppliers account for one of every 20 U.S. jobs. And those workers in turn support millions more in their communities.

UAW’s current pacts with the Detroit 3 car firms expire at 11:59 pm on Sept. 14. Jones made it clear the time for concessions, forced on the UAW when the Great Recession bankrupted GM and Chrysler -- which Fiat then bought – Is over.

Local union presidents are telling their members to save up and stock up in case they’re forced to walk, however. Members are also told to check on their insurance.

A specialist at the industry-funded Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told the Associated Press that a strike “would not be a stretch” this time around. And at its convention last year, the union increased its weekly strike benefits.

Jones didn’t go as far as forecasting a forced strike. “We look forward to good negotiations and a good contract,” he said, before adding: “Our membership is standing strong. My UAW brothers and sisters are ready to do whatever is necessary to get the contract that, in this time of record profits, they DESERVE (his emphasis).”

In language he repeated to Ford and GM – just changing the firms’ names -- Jones told auto execs: “I come with a message from my UAW brothers and sisters. Since the 2015 negotiations, FCA has seen enormous gains in profits. Profits made possible by the UAW workforce.”

“And I have heard loud and clear at every FCA plant and local I visit: My brothers and sisters who build these cars and trucks and SUVs and who stood by this company and made sacrifices to ensure its survival, expect to share in those profits.”

“When you needed us, we were there, and we expect no less in return.”

“In fact, the Big 3 are more profitable in North America than any of their competitors.

You all have the home advantage. That advantage is built every day in your plants by our members.

“In this time of corporate prosperity, labor is still being asked to take concessions.

Cuts in benefits, retirement security in jeopardy, job loss, wage loss, outsourcing, more and more temporary workers, jobs shifted to Mexico and China. THIS MUST STOP (his emphasis).”  Jones repeated those words to Ford and GM honchos, too.

“And we will take up the issue of progression and shorten the eight-year window that my brothers and sisters say — LOUDLY-- is way too long to get to the top of the pay scale.”

The firms also are bringing thorny issues to bargaining, including health care, even though GM unloaded its health care system on the UAW, plus stock and cash to pay for it, as part of the federal package that let it get back on its feet after bankruptcy. Another top issue is the firms’ drive to cut the number of workers as they shift to producing electric vehicles.

And, of course, there are the moves to Mexico. Reuters reported unionized UAW workers at one of the closed GM plants, in Lordstown, Ohio, greeted Jones and his top union colleagues at the opening of the bargaining in Detroit with cheers while wearing red T-shirts emblazoned “Invest in Lordstown.” GM is talking with an electric vehicle startup firm to buy the closed factory.