Plans to ramp up production of the new mid-engine eighth generation Corvette and increase employment at Bowling Green’s General Motors Assembly Plant could be detoured by a labor dispute.
GM and United Auto Workers negotiators haven’t been able to come to terms on a new contract, with pay and benefits for younger “in-progression” workers and part-timers a major issue, and the current deal with the union expires at midnight Saturday.
The UAW represents more than 150,000 hourly workers at GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler, and union workers at all three automakers have voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike if a deal can’t be reached. It would be GM’s first work stoppage in a dozen years.
The union is first negotiating only with GM, trying to renew the four-year deal that was reached at the final hour in 2015.
Those negotiations are complicated by GM’s decision last year to shut down plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland and by continuing pressure on GM to keep its labor costs in line with foreign-based automakers like Toyota and Nissan. The fact that eight UAW leaders have been convicted of taking illegal payments from Fiat Chrysler further complicates the negotiations.
The labor dispute comes at an inopportune time for the Bowling Green Corvette plant, where GM officials announced in April plans to add a second shift and some 400 hourly workers to its current workforce of about 900.
That announcement and the positive buzz about the mid-engine “C8” Corvette had created some optimism at the local plant, but the leader of UAW Local 2164 that represents the Corvette plant’s workers isn’t surprised that contract negotiations have stalled.
“I anticipated it,” said Jack Bowers, Local 2164 president. “I saw this coming.”
Bowers said the plant closings and what he sees as flaws in the 2015 contract have made it difficult for UAW leaders to reach a new agreement with GM.
That 2015 contract included bonuses and other perks for veteran workers, who make between $28 and $38 per hour, but it did little to help younger workers and part-timers. Bowers estimates that those “in-progression” employees make about $8 per hour less than established workers.
The union is also asking that GM commit to a cost-of-living allowance that would help offset inflation.
“We’re not trying to break the bank,” Bowers said, “but we would like for everybody to have a decent job.”
Bowers, who said he was flying to Detroit this weekend to observe the progress of the contract talks, hopes a strike can be averted.
“Nobody wants to strike,” he said. “That’s never good. It would affect not only our workers but our suppliers and stuff.”
Bowers said the union provides a strike pay of $250 per week, which would be a big cut for workers and a big reduction in what they would be able to spend at local retail shops and restaurants.
Like the union, GM hopes to avoid a work stoppage, Corvette Assembly Plant Communications Manager Rachel Bagshaw said.
“GM’s goal is to continue having constructive discussions with the UAW on reaching an agreement that builds a strong future for our employees and our business,” Bagshaw said in an email.
Despite the uncertainty and the looming deadline to reach an agreement, Bowers said: “We’re still ramping up. Nothing is on hold. It’s business as usual until they decide something. I hope they can work it out.”
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