UAW-GM unresolved issues are at ‘main table,’ union official says

DETROIT — General Motors and UAW leaders have moved all unresolved contract issues to the main bargaining table as the union’s nationwide strike continues, Terry Dittes, vice president of the UAW’s GM department, told members in a letter Wednesday.

“All unsettled proposals are now at the main table and have been presented to General Motors and we are awaiting their response,” Dittes wrote. “This back and forth will continue until negotiations are complete.”

The latest talks wrapped up Wednesday and both sides are expected to resume bargaining Thursday, according to a source familiar with the matter.

More than 48,000 workers at GM and its janitorial contractor remain on strike as the automaker and UAW leaders negotiate a national labor contract covering wages, benefits and job security.

“We continue to talk and our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a stronger future for our employees and our business,” GM said in a statement.

The negotiations have centered on wages, health care, job security and establishing a path to permanent employment for temporary workers.

The UAW international staff and bargaining committee have worked “countless hours” to reach an agreement, Dittes said.

“We will continue to bargain this contract until your bargaining committee is satisfied that we have achieved an agreement that properly addresses our Members’ concerns,” Dittes wrote to members.

The strike, now in its 10th day and poised to hit the 11-day mark on Thursday, has also forced temporary job and production cuts at GM suppliers.  

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday became the sixth Democratic presidential candidate to visit striking GM workers since they walked off the job, joining picket lines outside the company’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant.

Sanders, of Vermont, urged GM to invest in the workers and stop shutting down U.S. plants. Production at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant is scheduled to end in January, though one offer GM has made to the UAW would keep the factory open to build an electric pickup.

“We want companies in this country to be decent corporate citizens, to treat their workers with respect and dignity,” Sanders said. “Today, I say to General Motors: Sit down with the UAW, negotiate a contract that is fair for the working people of this company.”

On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass., visited Detroit-Hamtramck, and former Vice President Joe Biden visited GM’s assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan also have also visited workers at the picket lines. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke visited workers in West Chester, Ohio, on Tuesday and planned to visit Lordstown, Ohio, on Wednesday. GM ended vehicle output in Lordstown in March.

The union’s last strike against GM, in 2007, lasted two days.

“All over this country working people are looking at you, at what you’re doing,” Sanders told the Detroit-Hamtramck workers. “They’re looking at your courage. They’re proud of your standing up for justice. What is going on here is going on all over America. We need an economy that works for working people, not just for billionaires.”

Most workers who spoke with Automotive News outside the Detroit-Hamtramck plant Wednesday said their top priorities were equal pay for all workers and a path to employment for temporary employees.

Striking workers had mixed opinions about the effect of politicians joining the picket lines. Some said the presidential candidates’ solidarity with the union would help workers win a fair contract.

Wiley Turnage, president of UAW Local 22 in Detroit, walked the picket line with his wife, Marilyn, a team leader at GM’s Romulus Powertrain plant and member of Local 163.

“We are glad to have support from the senator,” Wiley Turnage said, but he questioned whether visits from Sanders and other politicians will help the workers get a better deal.

“Our leadership is going to take care of it because really it’s between the UAW and General Motors,” he said. “We just want a fair contract, and we won’t stop until we get it.”

Beth Baryo, a material handler at GM’s parts processing center near Flint, said she appreciated that the presidential hopefuls were connecting with the middle class.

“I think they’re really trying to reach out to the forgotten class, the middle class,” she said. “They are trying to show that they’re for the people and they’re actually standing up for what they believe in by coming out and talking to us.”

Sean Crawford, a material driver at Flint Assembly, said attention from politicians puts working-class issues in the limelight.

“There needs to be a lot of attention on this stuff,” Crawford said. “This is not just about UAW workers. It’s about everybody. When working people gain more power and they get wins, it’s better for everybody because it inspires more action.

“As individuals we don’t really have any leverage against our employers,” he added. “But if we come together as a union we can really gain back the worth of our labor.”

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