For the first time in over ten years, members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) went on strike at General Motors on Monday, Sept. 16. Nearly 50,000 workers at factories throughout the South and Midwest in the United States lined up to protest, shutting down 33 manufacturing plants in several states, as well as 22 of General Motors’ parts distribution warehouses.
After a disastrous Saturday spent arguing over contract negotiations, regional leaders of UAW in Detroit collectively voted to authorize a strike beginning at midnight the following day.
“Today, we stand strong and say with one voice, we are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people in this nation,” said UAW’s GM head Terry Dittes, when interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times.
While talks between the UAW and General Motors began Monday morning, strikes were still being held across the nation. Items discussed in the continued talks include profit sharing, wage increases, bettered job security as well as pay deficits between veteran workers and new hires. General Motors, however, wants employees to improve general productivity and morale and flexibility while paying a greater portion of health insurance benefits.
Negotiations have progressed as Trump’s trade war with China continued, prompting fears that the economy may slow down, wearing on manufacturers. Last year, General Motors earned over $8.1 billion dollars, yet multiple factories within the United States have sat idle, as car sales drop and the overall demand for cars declines.
General Motors stated that it wanted to reach a deal that would be beneficial for both the workers and the company. The company said that it had offered pay raises, as well as more than $5 billion worth of factory investments within the United States, resulting in thousands of new positions.
Before the talks broke off, General Motors stated that it would reopen two of the four factories intended to close to produce brand-new products. The company also pledged to open new factories in both Ohio and Detroit, where new all-electric pickup trucks and electric vehicle batteries would be made.
The number of workers that these factories would employ is unclear and have become central issues in the 2020 presidential campaign for President Donald Trump. Trump has criticized the company for its numerous factory closings and demanded that several be reopened.
Art Wheaton, an auto-industry expert at the Worker Institute at Cornell University stated that by leaving out details of the offers it had made to UAW in its publicized offers, working those details out would only prolong the current strike.
“I think GM kind of sabotaged some of the negotiations by going immediately to the public. It really distorts the offer,” said Wheaton, when interviewed by a reporter from the Associated Press.
Workers at other companies such as Fiat, Chrysler and Ford have continued working. Agreements settled between UAW and General Motors will be provided as a template for talks with other companies within the auto industry.