UAW's janitor strike is unresolved, creating a dilemma for GM UAW workers

Chicago Tribune Finance 0 month ago

DETROIT The UAW's negotiations on behalf of Aramark janitors remain unresolved, potentially creating a bad situation for the GM strikers who stood side-by-side with them on the picket lines for a month.

UAW-represented GM autoworkers at four facilities might have to cross the Aramark workers' picket lines.

The UAW reached a proposed tentative agreement with GM Wednesday, but its strike at GM's facilities nationwide will continue until the UAW National GM Council meets Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in Detroit. There, the council will vote to recommend ratification on the tentative agreement or reject it. It will also decide if the 46,000 GM workers will remain on strike until they ratify a contract or return to work, then vote on ratification.

If they return to work, it means GM union workers face the prospect of crossing the janitors' picket lines at four GM facilities in Michigan and Ohio. It's a situation none of the UAW workers want.

"It's (screwed) up isn't it? Earlier in the negotiations, the UAW told us to cross their picket line," said Sean Crawford, a UAW worker at GM's Flint Assembly plant, who called in sick rather than go to work and cross the Aramark workers' line.

Blasting machines and robots

"That's no way to show solidarity," said Crawford. "I sure hope they don't make that same mistake again. It's one of the first things I thought about when I heard we had a tentative agreement."

A UAW spokesman declined comment until the National Council decides what to do about the GM strike.

About 850 janitors employed by Aramark and represented by the UAW went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 15, one day prior to GM union workers going on strike.

Aramark manages service jobs at five GM sites: Flint Assembly, Flint Engine Operations, Flint Metal Center; the Metal Center Parma, Ohio; and the Technical Center in Warren. The Tech Center workforce is mostly salaried employees rather than union members.

Beyond janitorial work, the Aramark employees do some jobs key in keeping factories operational.

Kathy Swanigan has worked for Aramark at Flint Assembly for eight years. She does sanitation work in the body shop. She said her job and other Aramark janitors' jobs are "more than just cleaning the urinals."

"It used to be just bathrooms and trash, but every couple months they keep adding more work," but no more pay, said Swanigan.

The work is dangerous too. The janitors must properly "lock" machines when they go in to clean the body shops and paint departments.

"The blasting machine in the paint department could blow your limbs off," said Swanigan. "You have to properly lock these machines out so that while you're in there these robots don't start up on you. In those cells, once those robots get going, there's nowhere to hide, you'd be killed."

The maintenance workers, who are paid $11-15.18 per hour, had been working on a contract extension since March 2018. The wages are the biggest issue for Aramark employees.

"We make the least amount of money out of anybody in the plant. I haven't had a raise in 61/2 years. It's been eight years for everybody else," Swanigan said. "I can go to Aldi's and start as a cashier for $14.30 an hour. Here I put my life on the line, lift heavy things and change filters on the roof of this plant and cap out at $15.18."

Crossing the line

GM UAW workers at the plants that use Aramark say they hope the union can reach a proposed deal with Aramark soon so they won't be forced to cross a picket line.

"I definitely wouldn't want to, but whatever the UAW tells us, we have to do it so we don't get reprimanded," said Tommy Wolikow, a GM union worker at Flint Assembly. "But at the end of the day, I don't want to cross anyone's picket line or them to cross mine. So hopefully they'll solve that."

Swanigan said it would be wrong for the UAW to ask GM workers to return to work and cross Aramark's picket line. The awkwardness of such a scenario, she said, might push Aramark to a tentative agreement.

Aramark representatives have steadily declined comment.

To ease Aramark striker's fears in Flint, the UAW local's president "promised" Swanigan and her co-workers that: "If their stuff gets settled and ours doesn't, they're not going to cross our line. He won't let that happen."

But if GM workers do cross Aramark workers' picket line, "it would be devastating for us. I don't know how they can go back to work and leave us out here."

(c)2019 Detroit Free Press

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