United Auto Workers Local 2164 voted Tuesday in favor of the authorization to strike at the Bowling Green General Motors Assembly Plant.
“Taking a strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to strike,” union President Eldon Renaud said.
The purpose of the vote was for workers to decide whether the union should strike if negotiations don’t go well with the plant. Having the union support offers negotiators leverage in talks with GM, Renaud said.
“When you have strike authorization, you have the right to bargain,” he said.
Renaud cited various safety issues and the loss of several jobs in the plant’s quality area as some of the reasons for the vote. There are about 25 items the union wants addressed. “Our members are not being treated good. They were at one time,” Renaud said.
A wage increase is another issue the union wants to address. Renaud said the workers don’t seek a wage increase simply for the sake of making more money, but rather to encourage wage increases everywhere, which the union says will boost the economy.
“We want all the boats to rise, and we can’t do that if only one boat is rising,” Renaud said.
The vote passed with 93.1 percent support, Renaud said. The plant has about 800 union workers. “We don’t ask for anything we don’t have coming,” Renaud said. “We want to be full partners in the business.”
Renaud said representatives from the international union were on their way to Bowling Green to help the local union. Some were scheduled to arrive today.
Andrea Hales, communications manager at the plant, said in an emailed statement that the issues can be resolved.
“We pride ourselves in working with our UAW Local 2164 partners to achieve success and build award-winning vehicles,” Hales said in the email. “We’re confident that we can work together and have a strong track record of creative problem solving. We’ve built a world-class product at the Bowling Green facility for more than 30 years, with the safety of our employees and quality of the car at the forefront of every decision. We are committed to continue that tradition.”
Danny Denihan of Bowling Green, an industrial truck repairman at the plant and chairman of the union election committee, has worked for GM for 24 years.
Denihan said plant safety is one of the UAW’s concerns, but he believes the vote will present the union members as a united front to their employer.
“It lets them know we’re serious,” Denihan said. “We’ve been banging on doors, and the doors keep getting slammed in our faces.”
Denihan said he hopes the union and GM can come together and talk about the issues and their resolutions peacefully.
“We as auto workers come to work every day to build a quality car and feed our families. ... We’re not out to cause trouble. ... We feel we should be treated with respect,” Denihan said.
Although the union has the authorization to strike, Renaud doesn’t think it will come to that. He believes some issues will likely be corrected within a few weeks.
“I’m confident with the leadership we have that they’re going to avoid it,” Renaud said.
Renaud said new plant manager Jeff Lamarche inherited several issues from his predecessor, Dave Tatman, who Renaud said was encouraged to leave a couple months ago and was officially replaced March 1.
“I’m confident with (Lamarche) that he’ll have the support of the people if he fixes these problems as they come,” Renaud said.
Safety issues at the plant started some time ago, Renaud said, and continued during the production of the Stingray, which earned GM numerous awards. Some of the safety issues include equipment repairs in unsafe areas, such as “in a pit,” where it could be dimly lit and claustrophobic, Renaud said.
“We don’t want any of our brothers or sisters going home from work in worse shape than they came to work,” he said.
Renaud said the workers also feel the vehicle quality is not as good as it could be because some in management have overridden the work of some inspectors and passed cars through that might not have been their best.
“You think it’s good enough to get through the gates,” Renaud said. “That may not be good enough for our customers.”
Other plants in the country have had vehicle recalls, and Renaud doesn’t want to see that happen here, so quality should remain a top priority, he said.
Several jobs in quality have been eliminated, including jobs in ergonomics and communications, Renaud said. Some workers have been working for an extended period of months with no day off, he added, though he recognizes that because of the Stingray’s popularity, overtime will likely continue for maybe the next five years.
Renaud cited problems working with the personnel director as another grievance of the union.
He said GM has a great work force that puts out a great car, which is a recipe for success. With that at stake, he and the other union members hope a resolution can be reached in a timely manner.
“We don’t want to strike any more than the company does,” Renaud said.