Key GM Parts Plants Refuse To Be Whipsawed

Auto workers at a Michigan GM plant voted down big wage cuts by a 2-1 margin March 31 despite intense whipsawing against sister plants by company and International union officials. . . .

The 258-136 vote at United Auto Workers Local 167 in Wyoming, Michigan warded off a wage freeze through 2015, $12 starting pay for new hires, a $5 wage cut for skilled trades, and higher-cost health insurance.

Workers voted down $12 wages for new hires.

Most of the Wyoming members have less than three years’ seniority. A veteran at eight years, rank and filer Rodney Childs said members voted no because GM is “trying to kill the future.”

New people starting between $12 and $14 an hour wouldn’t make more than $15 in their life span at the plant, Childs said, adding that GM also tried to sneak in a form of team concept and make job setters do management work.

“They were hitting the whole package the UAW stands for—wages, benefits, and rights,” he said.

FIVE STEPCHILDREN

The 500-worker engine components plant is one of five GM parts plants bouncing along a rocky road since 1999, when GM spun off its parts operations to create Delphi Corp. Delphi went bankrupt in 2005 and cut workers’ pay almost in half, to $14.50-$18.50, in 2007.

Last year, GM bought back from Delphi five plants that make essential components. GM placed them in a holding company but kept them at their low wages. The only bright spot for these “keep sites” was a five-plant master agreement, good till September 2011, that included some raises, severance pay, and a successor clause that guaranteed any sale would maintain the 2007 contract.

Now GM is looking to sell the plants, and has convinced UAW officials they should help grease the way by opening the contract and pitting plant against plant to lower labor costs.

Childs said he thought GM and the UAW chose Wyoming to vote first on concessions because it has the highest percentage of new hires.

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UAW International leaders have told the five local unions they are better off breaking the master agreement and negotiating individual deals. At the contract information meeting in Wyoming, union officials told workers the concessions would win them work now done at other keep sites.

Workers aren’t convinced. Earlier, at the Rochester, New York, fuel delivery systems plant, the president and shop chair wrote in a leaflet to members, “Management’s proposal is so ridiculous we will not be voting on it.”

The company wanted to cut assembly workers to $13.31 an hour, reduce health care benefits while increasing costs, and, ironically, reduce severance payments—while threatening to sell the plant. In return it offered “no buyouts, no buydowns, no guarantees of new work, nothing,” officers said.

In Lockport, New York, rank and filer Andy Pella said that when news of the Michigan “no” vote hit the floor, workers celebrated. “Most of them are against any type of concessions,” Pella said, “having given up 40 percent of their wage and benefits and 100 percent of their pension.”

Dean Parm, a committeeperson at the Saginaw, Michigan, keep site, believes GM will bring the Wyoming concessions to his local. “They say they don’t want a master agreement,” Parm said, “but they want a master concessionary agreement.”

Monte Erby, committeeperson in Kokomo, Indiana, said, “Most of the members I talk to want to keep the master agreement. They feel we have a better chance if we all stay together.” Leaflets against concessions from the dissident Soldiers of Solidarity website are popular in the plants.

REVERSAL

Since January GM had been blatantly breaking the five locals’ 2007 contract by refusing to pay a 3.75 percent raise due then. This was one of the reasons members have been up in arms. On April 7 GM relented and agreed to pay the raise.

Union officials in Wyoming had scheduled a re-vote for April 8, hoping to get the concessions through after all. But seeing which way the wind was blowing, they canceled the vote.

“Even our most introverted members have been very vociferous about any more concessions,” Parm said. “They’re not ready to have any other concessions come their way.”

The GM stepchildren’s defiance comes on top of Ford workers’ national “no” vote on concessions last fall.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #374, May 2010. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.