Even as it continues to hire temporary workers in preparation for adding a second shift next month, General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant is transitioning nearly 60 hourly workers from temporary to full time.
Detroit-based GM made the announcement Wednesday that more than 1,350 temporary workers at 14 of its U.S. facilities will shift to full-time positions before the end of March. Fifty-seven of those are at the Bowling Green plant, according to United Auto Workers Local 2164 President Jack Bowers.
The announcement aligns with language about temporary workers in the four-year contract the UAW reached with GM in October after a nationwide 40-day strike.
“This is basically what we went on strike for,” Bowers said. “Some of them (temporary workers) have been here three or four years. This is definitely a big improvement for them.”
The transition from temporary to full time means a bump in pay from around $17 per hour to $21 to $24 an hour and a significant improvement in benefits such as health care, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press newspaper. As full-timers, those employees are also in line to reach the top wage level of $32.32 per hour by the end of the current contract.
“Many of these workers had been here for a number of years,” said Nora Roper, the Corvette plant’s assistant plant manager. “We’re excited for them and their families. This is good for our employees and good for Bowling Green.”
The status change of the 57 workers is only part of the positive news for the Bowling Green plant these days. The plant has been bringing in new workers, many of them transferring from GM’s Lordstown, Ohio, plant that closed last year, and Roper said employment at the local plant has grown from about 900 to around 1,300 hourly and salaried workers.
That boost in employment was announced last April, when GM CEO Mary Barra came to Bowling Green to reveal plans to add 400 workers and a second shift as the plant made the transition from making the seventh-generation Corvette to producing the revolutionary mid-engine C8.
Full production of the 2020 Corvette hasn’t started yet, but the car has already garnered North American Car of the Year and other honors for its unique design and performance.
Roper said the strike “basically added six weeks to our plan,” but she said full production will begin soon. The plant’s employees have been going through training on production of the new model, and the second shift will be added in February.
“We’re ramping up, getting ready for it,” Bowers said. “It’s a completely different vehicle, so there’s a lot to learn.”
The learning curve could be even steeper for those transferring from Lordstown, where the Chevrolet Cruze was made, and for the temporary workers who are still being hired.
GM has been advertising for production team members at a starting salary of $16.67 an hour. They will be hired as temporaries, but Bowers said the new contract at least gives them hope of eventually becoming full time.
“As time goes on, they’ll be hiring more temporary workers,” Bowers said. “But we won’t have people working five to seven years as temporaries anymore. We have language in the contract that says they’ll become full time after three years.”
The use of temporary workers and the flexibility it afforded were important to GM as it emerged from bankruptcy and negotiated a 2011 contract with the UAW, but now a member of the automaker’s management team sees benefits in transitioning those workers to full time.
“Our employees are essential to meeting the needs of our customers, so providing these team members with an improved career path forward has numerous benefits,” GM Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing Gerald Johnson said in a news release. “From health and safety to building high-quality products for our customers, it takes all of us working together to build a stronger future.”
Likewise, Bowers views the new contract’s provision for moving from temporary to full time as a step in the right direction.
“There are always things you want to improve,” he said. “But we made some positive steps. In the next contract (in 2023) we need to make more.”