After getting bailed out in 2008, GM did not respond in a similar way toward its employees.
For those of you just joining the resurgence of labor rights activism, the leaders of the United Auto Workers union called upon 48,000 members to strike against working conditions at General Motors. The strike follows the expiration of an agreement between GM and the UAW, which holds contracts with all of the major auto manufacturers. When one of these contracts expires, a deal must be renegotiated, which includes a show of force, hence the strike. Side effects to such a strike may include, but are not limited to, increased cost for GM products, furloughing (temporary layoffs) of workers unassociated with the union, reduction in wages and ripple effects across supply chains, ruining smaller companies.
The UAW leaders have demanded greater profit sharing among the workforce, a reduction in temporary workers, increased benefits and a pullback on GM’s planned plant closings in the United States and Canada. GM had a new agreement prepared for the expiration of UAW’s contract with them, but the union leaders decided that the contract did not answer their demands on profit sharing and temp workers, so they rejected it, kicking off a long, arduous struggle until one side capitulates. If one was in Oklahoma two years ago, they would have seen what such a prolonged struggle costs. Oklahoma teachers cannot legally have a labor union, but leaders among the teachers received approval to strike. Of course, a strike has to affect people directly, which means it took place during the school year. I was taking four AP exams that year, and while I was not concerned about the history and English ones, I was terrified of the calculus BC test. My class had barely made it to series and sequences, something I desperately needed time to understand, but the teacher strike began.
The difference between these two scenarios is the existence of a prepared deal before the strike began. The teachers were striking from a position of nothing, but the UAW workers had all the strength in the world. When their contract with GM previously expired in 2007, the strike lasted two days. An agreement was reached and the strike went away. It seems foolish for GM to not offer a deal that goes above their expectations, especially when it causes thousands of people unrelated to the strike their livelihoods. GM has temporarily fired several thousand workers instead of paying an idle plant’s workforce, smaller tributary companies that funnel into GM’s production cycle now have an inventory that is unsellable, striking workers now make $250 a week instead of $900 and I got a two on my AP calc exam.
While these workers have a right to strike, one cannot simply ignore the position they were in prior to the present. Although the looming presence of plant closures is concerning, some of these people were making some real money. Salaries at GM range from $30,000 a year to $120,000, with positions meeting the national average or going above it, but GM has a nasty streak of letting workers ride the line between full-time and part-time employment. If one works full-time, the employer must take certain actions towards providing benefits like health insurance, but these requirements do not necessarily apply to part-time workers, so bosses schedule workers close to forty hours a week, but do not let them hit that number. It is a scummy, underhanded practice, and it affects more than GM. Ever wonder why your summer job boss never scheduled above a certain hour limit, even when most of your coworkers were about as reliable as peace in the Middle East?
GM has employed underhanded, shady practices and is attempting to outwait the strikers. They offered a deal, but it was decided the deal was not enough, and the UAW has a right to be pissed. When the recession hit GM in 2008, those workers stayed with GM through the dark times, taking pay cuts and reduced hours, and what happened? They want a greater share of the pie in return for their loyalty, but GM is so hamfisted with their dollar bills that they will not capitulate. GM received a government bailout, but it is far more difficult to bail out 48,000 workers and their families. GM should reward loyalty, not spurn the most honorable segment of their workforce.