Election Day is coming a couple of weeks early for members of the United Auto Workers Local 2164 in Bowling Green, and this trip to the ballot box should have bigger implications for those workers than the Nov. 5 voting for Kentucky’s statewide offices.
In what will be day 38 of UAW’s nationwide strike against General Motors, the nearly 1,300 hourly workers now assigned to the GM Bowling Green Assembly Plant will vote Wednesday to accept or reject a contract hammered out by union and GM negotiators in Detroit.
Their votes will be tallied along with those of nearly 50,000 total union members across 55 locations to decide by Friday if the workers will get back to making cars and trucks or continue a work stoppage that is the UAW’s longest against GM since 1970.
The stakes are high, both for the automaker that has lost an estimated $2 billion since the strike began Sept. 16 and for the UAW members who have been subsisting on $275-a-week strike pay.
Because the proposed deal includes improvements for the “in-progression” and temporary workers who were a large part of the negotiations, Local 2164 President Jack Bowers said Monday that he likes the contract’s chances in the voting.
“With the amount of time we’ve been out and some of the stuff we got from GM, I think it’ll pass by about 70 percent,” Bowers said as he sat in his office at the union hall. “I’m not trying to sell it. If it’s good for you, vote yes. If it’s not, vote no.”
Bowers said the proposed contract was presented to Local 2164 members Sunday.
“We gave everybody the information they needed to make an informed decision,” he said.
While he says there was “give and take” in the negotiations, Bowers likes what the union got.
The biggest victory for the UAW appears to be an improvement in the timetable for new full-time hires to reach the highest wage level and for temporary workers to achieve permanent status.
Unlike the 2015 contract that called for the “in-progression” workers to wait eight years to reach the highest wage level, this tentative deal calls for those employees to reach the top level of $32.32 per hour in just four years.
“At the end of the (four-year) contract, everybody will be at the same wage level,” Bowers said. “And it’s a great wage level.”
The deal also maintains the current health insurance plan and includes a ratification bonus of $11,000 for seniority employees and $4,500 for temporary workers.
Beginning in January, those temporary workers will have a shortened path to permanent status.
Despite those victories, some Local 2164 members aren’t convinced that the contract will be approved Friday.
“It’s hard to say if it’s going to pass or not,” said Heidi Johnson, a 22-year GM employee who was volunteering in the union hall’s kitchen Monday. “Not everybody is happy.”
Regardless of the outcome Friday, Johnson believes the strike has already had a positive impact on the UAW.
“This strike, like a natural disaster that brings the community together, only makes you stronger,” she said. “The solidarity has been great, and I’ve gotten to know my fellow workers better, even those who have transferred in from other plants.”
Ratification of the contract won’t mean an immediate return to business as usual, Bowers pointed out.
The new workers who have transferred in from other GM plants that were shut down will need to be trained, and management will eventually need to organize a new two-shift work schedule as the plant gears up to produce the eighth-generation (or C8) Corvette.
The strike has put that transition behind schedule. Bowers said a two-week plant shutdown had been scheduled for this month, after production of the C7 Corvettes had been completed, but now he isn’t sure when the shutdown to prepare for C8 production will happen.
Johnson was probably speaking for both her fellow hourly workers and for management when she said: “Everybody wants to get back in a routine. We’ve been out long enough. It’s time to go back to work.”