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Nearly 50,000 General Motors Employees May Soon Be Headed Back To Work After Strike


Nearly 50,000 General Motors employees are not going back to work just yet. A month into a labor strike, local UAW leaders voted to approve a tentative contract with GM. But the general membership still has to approve it, and until then, the strike continues. They've been hashing it out behind closed doors in Detroit all day. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has been following these negotiations, and she joins me now.

Hey, Tracy.


CHANG: So give us a little more of an idea of what happened at the meeting today.

SAMILTON: Well, what we know is that they did approve the tentative contract, but it took them a lot longer than most of us were expecting. We don't know what exactly was holding it up, but it seemed to be a real fight perhaps over whether the strike should end or whether they should keep folks out on the picket line while the voting is happening.

CHANG: OK. And so far, union leaders are calling this proposed contract a win.

SAMILTON: They are.

CHANG: Is that fair, to call this a win? I mean, what exactly are they getting out of this?

SAMILTON: It totally depends on your point of view. There are definitely some things that I was surprised to see because GM did agree that, for its temporary workers, it's going to give them a path to full-time jobs if they are temps for three years or longer. They're also going to get some paid time off, which they did not have before. So they're going to have a week paid time off after they work for a year, and then they have another half a week of unpaid time off.

Now, they held the line on health care. GM initially wanted to increase their out-of-pocket costs. They held the line there. There's a big bonus, $11,000 ratification bonus, if they vote to approve it. And then the time that it takes for a lower-paid person to get all the way up to the top wage is going from eight years to four years.


SAMILTON: So there's definitely some things in here that are good.

CHANG: Yeah. But I also understand they didn't get everything they wanted.

SAMILTON: Oh, no (laughter).

CHANG: What did they not get?

SAMILTON: Well, GM closed four plants this year, and they did not get those plants reopened, except for a product that's going to eventually come to Detroit Hamtramck. But the other plants - Lordstown, Ohio; Baltimore Transmission and Warren Transmission - are going to stay closed. And there's also no - as far as we can tell, there's no actual product allocation guarantee here for the plants that are open now.

CHANG: What does that mean?

SAMILTON: And so what that means is that job security for the folks who are at open plants is - it's an open question.

CHANG: Have you had the chance to talk to workers - not in the union leadership, but union members? I mean, what are you hearing from them?

SAMILTON: Well, we had quite a few folks from Lordstown, Ohio, come here, drive here to protest, and I spoke to a few of them. And as you can imagine, they are not at all happy about this. They felt that GM betrayed them, asking them to work very hard and closed the plant from under them. And now they're feeling betrayed by the union because they all have to relocate around the country if they want to keep their jobs.

CHANG: So what happens going forward? What happens if, say, the union leaders don't get approval?

SAMILTON: Oh, my (laughter). That would be - if the rank and file vote it down, that's going to be a huge problem here. This - GM has already lost $1.5 billion. The workers have lost $835 million, both GM workers and supplier workers. So you're talking a big, big problem...

CHANG: Yeah.

SAMILTON: ...with the cost to both sides.

CHANG: That's Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton.

Thanks so much, Tracy.

SAMILTON: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.