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UAW members' expectations are still high as the strike against GM continues




United Auto Workers members who beat General Motors Co. say expectations for a new four-year contract remain high as the work stoppage extends to a fourth week.

Salary increases, retaining low health insurance benefits and creating a permanent path for temporary employees to become permanent employees are essential measures for many of the 46,000 members when it comes to a tentative agreement to get their support and ratification, they said. Even while a federal corruption investigation of the union's top executives is underway, voters who spoke to The Detroit News said they feel they can trust the people who negotiate on their behalf.

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Daniel Rider, 56, of West Lake, engineer at GM's Romulus engine plant, says he expects a "fair and equitable" deal while picking outside the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Detroit's automaker's headquarters. (Photo: Breana Noble, The Detroit News)

Ratification of a majority of UAW's voting members will end negotiations at GM and allow the union to continue talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Ford Motor Co.

The new contract "can't be the same" as the previous one, said Chris Lage, 32, of Macomb, a nine-year GM of the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. "Otherwise, the strike wouldn't have been worth it."

UAW members on Monday began receiving their second weekly strike pay up to $ 250, after missing another GM pay cut on Friday. Top-paying production workers earn $ 30.46 per hour, or about $ 1220 per week. GM itself has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to analysts and economists.

"I still expect a fair and just deal," said Daniel Rider, 56, of West Lake, a seven-year GM engineer at the Romulus engine plant. "They have lost $ 1 billion that they could have given to workers. I think we can get most of what we asked for, probably not everything. Some people have very high expectations."

Rider says that a fair deal would allow employees to retain health insurance benefits as they pay around 3% of total health care costs, . permanent positions after no more than 120 days.

Temporary employees

Temporary employees began substituting for summer vacations, but their roles have expanded to cover product launches, volume and general employee absenteeism, representing 7% of GM's hourly staff, and some are considered temporary for years.

For health care and temporary staff, dealers had made "good progress," UAW Vice President Terry said Dittes said in a letter to local union leaders Friday, but since then, the talks had taken a "turn for the worse," said Dittes, who is head of the union's GM-a. division, Sunday in another letter. Pensions, wages, job security and skilled trades remained themes of disagreement between the UAW and the Detroit automaker.

The goals for temporary employees and wages are a "strategic move," said Art Wheaton, a car industry specialist at Cornell University & # 39; s Industrial and Labor Relations School.

"The ratification should always be difficult," Wheaton said, as the company goes on for four profitable years, but faces uncertainty in declining sales, tariffs and trade, and the time it takes to raise investments for autonomous and electric vehicles.

When a preliminary agreement is reached, UAW's GM sub-council with 200 local union leaders will vote to end the strike either with the agreement or after ratification, which could take several days and "is not a given," Wheaton noted. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV employees rejected an initial tentative agreement in 2015.

When the sub council decides to end the strike "is a way to measure confidence in the UAW negotiation team to see if they can get a contract ratified," Wheaton said . "If they end the strike right away, they are pretty sure what they negotiated should be ratified. If they wait, they tell GM, & # 39; We are not sure we will ratify it. & # 39;"

The compensation and treatment of new and temporary employment "their primary goal," Wheaton said. "There were not huge expectations about changes in health insurance. That strategy has been worthwhile to get a lot of support in the community. Public support has been very strong for UAW. Everyone can relate to a temporary job or a permanent job that pays less than others. "

Dawn Hamilton, age 36, of Redford Township, has been a temporary employee at the Romulus plant for more than a year.

"I'm afraid if I've been out here all the time and it doesn't work in my favor," she said. Hamilton wants the new contract to hire permanent current temporary staff and initiate a lawsuit for new hiring less than a year. "I need to know if I should be looking for a job. We've done the same training, passed all the same tests, why not hire us? "

Picketing so that future temporary appointments don't have to work for years before being hired permanently makes a few weeks in strike worth it, Erica said Dishman, 45, of Ypsilanti, who was temporarily employed for a year 12 years ago, before being hired with full seniority.

"It's sad," said Dishman, who works at the customer care distribution center and after sales in his hometown. . "You can't make plans to buy a house or a car. You don't know when you get a job. There is no pension or bonus. You can be thrown away, and it can all end in & # 39; psych. & # 39; "

Other issues

Newer employees who spoke to The News were more likely to say a clear path to seniority for temporary employees was more of a top concern to them than employees hired before October 2007 – so-called" legacy "- employees who make up more than 40% of GM's workforce. They had salary increases and health care at the top of their heads.

"Actually, I just want it to be the status quo," said Robert Gidley, 65, of Westland, a 41-year-old GM toolmaker at Romulus plant. "Keep wages good, maybe a 3% pay rise and lump sum, profit sharing and no changes to health care as in previous contracts. I am happy with what I have received."

Although many members said that they have not met their expectations as the strike prolongs, Avland Prescott, 44, of Westland admits that hers has changed, "and not for the better."

"I thought that after three years of record profits, General Motors would sam working with us, they would give us a good deal, "said Prescott, a six-year-old GM engineer at the Romulus plant. "I didn't expect it to last that long."

Now that the strike has done, Prescott says she has reduced expectations of seeing employees hired after 2007 receive a pension, not just the 401 (k) pension plan they receive. However, she hopes it could be an option after an employee has worked for GM for a decade.

In that fight, "I trust Terry's," Prescott said. “He was one of us. He came up from the floor. He seems like a good and honest man.

For four years, the federal government has been investigating corruption in the union, in negotiations and in joint training centers run by and funded by Detroit Three automakers. The probe has resulted in nine convictions and two more charges, including Vance Pearson, UAW's Region 5 director who is not a member of the UAW-GM negotiating team, but had advised the team to negotiate a new contract with GM until he was placed with leave Friday.

The investigation has also involved UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, although they are not charged. They are two named officials who are accused of orchestrating a years-long conspiracy that failed union members to buy personal luxury in a statement filed by a U.S. labor department agent in the criminal complaint that accuses Jones, the Detroit News reported last month. Jones is present at the ongoing "main table" talks.

"I don't think we have anything to do with it," said Karlton Byas, 63, of Detroit, a 35-year-old GM who does health and security training for the UAW at Detroit-Hamtramck. "I think it's unethical, but it has nothing to do with anything we work for here."

Added Sean Lolley, 44, of Adrian, a 22-year-old forklift driver at the Ypsilanti distribution center: "They are innocent until proven guilty."

But members said they feel safe about Dittes, who joined the union in 1978 while working at the Fisher Body Plant in Trenton, New Jersey. He later transferred to a GM sharing facility in 1980 in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and has worked his way up the association since. He replaced Cindy Estrada as head of the UAW-GM department in January 2018 when she moved to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, a change that was seen as a demotion to Estrada after being identified as a person of interest in the corruption probe.

"He is very humble, very smart, very caring about the UAW member and laser focused," said Cornell's Wheaton, who Dittes introduced himself while leading the UAW's Region 9 in Buffalo, New York. "I haven't heard any hint of scandal" about him.

The letter Dittes wrote in response to GM in November when it identified five North American plants, including Detroit-Hamtramck and Warren Transmission, for closure earned him eight-year Detroit-Hamtramck paint department employee Michael Tremonti's support.

"I have faith in Terry Dittes," said Tremonti, 38, of Ferndale. "I have no doubt he is fighting for us."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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