UAW strikers get first strike pay as negotiators strive to get a deal

Chicago Tribune Finance 1 month ago

DETROIT As General Motors-UAW negotiations resumed early Monday, hundreds of union strikers filed into UAW Local 163 in Westland, Mich., to collect their first strike paycheck.

The strike is entering its third week and the more than 1,200 workers at GM's Romulus Powertrain had from 5:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday to pick up the $250 check, paid out of the UAW's strike fund.

Many strikers said they need it badly. Monday's line of striking workers stretched from the union hall's main assembly room, snaked around the corner and drifted down the hall.

For Theodore Mays the money couldn't come soon enough.

"It's been rough because I have an autoimmune disease and I've been out of work a lot of the year on medical, so I've had no time to save up," said Mays, who's worked at GM's Romulus Powertrain for three years.

Mays said he is in good standing with his landlord on rent, but he worries about being able to make his car payment and cover medical bills.

"I need to go back to work this week," said Mays. But he said will endure longer if the strike helps to get workers a good contract. "I don't want us to settle."

On Sept. 16 some 46,000 union workers at GM's facilities nationwide went on strike. Negotiators have been working long hours daily, even over the weekends, but have yet to reach a tentative agreement.

Meanwhile, the costs are mounting for all involved. The strikers are watching their savings shrink. GM has lost about $113 million in profits so far and is losing money at a rate of $25 million a day, according to an analysis released Thursday by East Lansing-based consultant Anderson Economic Group.

GM's supplier companies and the U.S. economy are hit too. The strikers and workers laid off at GM's supplier network have lost wages totaling $266 million so far, the analysis said. That equals about $68 million in lost federal income and payroll taxes.

Most recently effected are two of GM's suppliers in Mexico: Lear and EKM plants have laid off about 200 workers to the temporary shutdown, reports said.

The UAW has more than $800 million in its strike fund. It pays striking members $250 a week, or $50 a day Monday through Friday. On Jan. 1, strike pay is set to rise to $275 a week, or $55 a day.

Still, it is below the average Social Security payment for retirees, which is around $1,471 a month, based on data as of June 2019.

GM pays a week behind, therefore workers got their final full paycheck from GM on Friday, Sept. 20.

Similarly, the union's first week of strike pay is delayed that's why instead of getting a check for $500, they each got $250. They will get paid for that first week after the strike ends.

"It's not enough, but it's better than nothing," said union member Fatima Lexama, who came to pick up her check Monday at Local 163. "It's been challenging. I am almost paycheck to paycheck as it is because I paid cash for my son's college. I'm also trying to buy a house. So this was not the best time for me."

Lexama has worked at GM's Romulus plant for 23 years. She said she has enough savings to squeak by one more week, but if the strike lingers beyond that, "It's going to tough."

Assembly line worker Adrian Lewis said he's had to tap money he worked hard to save. But, he said, "I understand what we're fighting for. We're not just giving in."

Henry Myles and his wife, Lauri Myles, planned to go to their landlord after getting his strike check, to ask for temporary leniency on rent payments.

"I had to stop working two years ago due to an illness, so he's taking care of all of us," said Lauri Myles. "When I say 'all of us,' we have five or six grandkids who we're taking care of all the time."

In fact, Local 163's secretary was writing letters to creditors notifying them of the strike to help some union members out, said Joe Garrett, Local 163's shop chairman at Romulus Powertrain.

"Some of the members were feeling pain last week," said Garrett. He lent one of them money from his own pocket.

"They'll get by," said Garrett, who was once laid off for four years. "You always find a way to survive."

Henry Myles said he is striking for "equal rights for everybody," referring to temporary workers. Those workers often do similar jobs to what permanent workers do, but for less pay, weaker benefits and no job security. Often, they can remain in temporary status for several years with no path to being hired permanent. The union wants that to change.

But GM wants to use more temporary workers to help lower its labor costs to better compete against the foreign carmakers who build in the United States. Those competitors' all-in labor costs per hour are $13 below that of GM, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

Henry Myles was a temp in 2006-07 at GM until, "by God's blessing, he was able to get hired," said Lauri Myles.

John Hodge spent two years as a temp worker before being hired permanently in 2010. He is striking because, "I want us to do better than they did for me when I went from being a temp to permanent," said Hodge.

GM hired Hodge as a temp in 2008. He was paid $24 an hour, he said. When GM hired him full-time two years later, his entry pay dropped to $15 an hour due to 2009 negotiations where the union said it made concessions, he said.

As an "in-progression" employee, Hodge is now at his maximum pay of $28 an hour, so he hopes the tentative deal the UAW gets with GM will allow him to move into the legacy tier pay, closer to $31 an hour.

But for Hodge it's not even about the wages, he said. What matters most to him, just like Myles, Mays and many other union strikers, is temporary workers.

"They've got temps at a disadvantage: No vacation, no profit sharing, less wages, they're limited to 32 hours a week and no overtime," said Hodge. "It's another separation of workers."

(c)2019 Detroit Free Press

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