Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and General Motors deteriorated into a strike over the weekend. As a result, more than 49,000 union members walked off factory floors or set up picket lines early Monday.
A strike is a slowdown or stoppage of work by employees. Usually, employees use strikes to pressure employers to change some aspect of the work environment like pay, working conditions, or treatment of employees.
It isn’t clear how long the General Motors (GM) strike could last. The union says GM has budged little in months of talks—while GM says it has made large offers including higher wages and factory investments.
GM workers have shut down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states as well as 22 parts warehouses. Workers say they gave up cost-of-living pay raises to help GM get through bankruptcy. They want some of that back now that the company is making profits.
Dave Green, a former local union president, agrees with the strike over wages, plant closures, and other issues. “If we don’t fight now, when are we going to fight?” he asks. “This is not about us. It’s about the future.”
GM says it offered numerous incentives to end the strike, including pay raises, “nationally leading” health benefits, and $7 billion worth of factory investments that would have created 5,400 new positions.
United Auto Workers Vice President Terry Dittes calls a strike the union’s last resort—but he believes it’s needed because both sides are so far apart in negotiating. “We clearly understand the hardship that it may cause,” he says. “We are standing up for fair wages; we are standing up for affordable quality health care; we are standing up for our share of the profits.”
Public statements from both sides conflict, so it’s hard to tell how long the strike will last. Kristin Dziczek is vice president of labor and industry at the Center for Automotive Research. The length, she says, “depends on how far apart they really are.”
(United Auto Workers members picket outside the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Hamtramck, Michigan, early Monday, September 16, 2019. AP Photo/Paul Sancya)