According to Al Tiller, shop chairman of the Local 1005, United Auto Workers members are in for the long haul in their strike of General Motors. “We’ve been getting everybody ready for a year for this strike,” he said, speaking in the parking lot of the Parma, Ohio union headquarters. Members have been discussing the necessity of saving money at union meetings, and dues were temporarily increased from two hours’ pay a month to two and a half hours’ pay in preparation. That extra money will go towards augmenting workers’ $250-a-week strike pay and providing benefits while GM isn’t.
Despite the bruising loss of income, Tiller says members are ready and willing to strike for much longer than the last UAW strike of GM in 2007, which lasted less than two days. “We’re prepared for six months to a year,” Tiller said. He emphasized the necessity of the strike by claiming that GM owed its continued existence to the UAW, and that it was time for the workers to share GM’s current success: “We’re the reason they’re open still.” The automaker reported an increase in revenue of 1.6% from last year, and “they still haven’t given back the concessions we’ve given to keep them open, and now they want more.” A GM representative did not return requests for comments by press time.
Among what GM wants is to employ more temporary employees, and the automaker initially wanted to require the rest to pay more for their healthcare benefits but rolled that back in negotiations today. Tiller characterized as absurd GM’s practice of hiring temporary employees for extended periods of time: “Four to five years, for a temporary employee? It’s ridiculous,” says Tiller. “That’s not a temporary job. That’s not a temporary position. That’s …” He paused. “You need 30 years to retire. Five years is, you’re on your way to retirement.”
He noted that the factory where he has worked for 22 years, the General Motors Parma Metal Center, didn’t have much of a problem with temporary employees: “We stopped that five years ago. We forced them to hire in 2015-2016,” until GM corporate stepped in. The problem is worse in assembly plants, he said, where GM employs “thousands” of them.
More personal to Tiller was GM’s reluctance to re-source production of vehicles to the U.S. “They’re talking about bringing a product back to the U.S., but what they’re not telling you is that the product they’ve already taken, what they’re going to put back doesn’t even equate to that.” The shuttering of the GM assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, has become emblematic of the costs of outsourcing for local communities. For Tiller, it’s more personal, an example of what could happen to his own plant, his own town: “You see Lordstown, down the road, it’s closed. And it affects the communities—you see how Lordstown is, so we’re out here fighting for ourselves, the UAW, fighting for our communities, and we’re fighting for the middle class as a whole.”
Compounding the frustration Tiller feels is the sense that GM is engaging in “tricks,” including cutting off striking members’ health care and releasing negotiation details to the public. Union lawyers are currently looking into whether or not GM is allowed to suspend coverage immediately instead of covering employees until the end of the month. And those released negotiation details, Tiller says, don’t paint a complete picture: “The frustrating part is, GM is trying to get all the public on their side and say they offered us this, or that, or a lot of money. What they’re offering is nothing compared to what they want to take away.”
When asked about the current state of unions in general, Tiller suggested that unions have “lost momentum,” but, recalling his grandfather’s participation in labor disputes that sometimes turned violent, expressed a faith in their continued necessity.
When asked if Ford and Chrysler should be worried in advance of their own upcoming UAW negotiations, Tiller said that the strike was fundamentally about “corporate greed,” and that the strike “absolutely could affect them.” He continued: “GM’s the most profitable, that’s why we picked them first. (…) If Ford’s next, our brothers are here supporting us from Ford right down the road. They’re ready too. We have some Chrysler guys, they’re ready too. If we need a nation-wide UAW strike, all three, we’re ready to do that.”
As for the current strike against GM, he seemed resigned to the idea that the strike was going to be a struggle, and a lengthy one at that. “I don’t see it ending anytime soon,” he said.