For workers walking the picket lines outside General Motors’ U.S. plants, the talks between the UAW and the company come down to the basics: improved wages and benefits with job security for some 46,000 hourly employees.
David Bupte, a longtime electrician who works at the company’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, wants a contract that recovers hourly wages lost to inflation and other cost-of-living changes.
“They need to address what we’ve lost in wages,” Bupte said Monday outside the Detroit factory. “They’ve been doing lump sum payments instead of actually increasing wages.”
Because lump-sum payments aren’t included when calculating pension payouts, Bupte said he’s reconsidering when he will retire.
“I was thinking about retiring but I’m giving that second thoughts now,” he said.
GM has not formally allocated new product for the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, threatening its closure and the relocation of hundreds of workers, though the company said it had offered “solutions” for the plant as well as one in Lordstown, Ohio, that has been idled. GM offered to assemble an electric pickup at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The company said it also offered $7 billion in investments, 5,400 new or retained jobs and an $8,000 ratification bonus.
It’s unclear if that is enough to sway union leaders and rank-and-file members eager to win more gains from Detroit’s most profitable automaker over the last four years.
“They didn’t address all the concessions we’ve had in recent years, the things we’ve given up for this corporation for it to become profitable again,” Bupte said of contracts since GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. “These employees have kids that want to go to school, they’ve got mortgages and car payments. All we’re asking for is a guarantee that we have a job and an income.”
GM’s decision to build vehicles outside the U.S. makes Bupte skeptical of the union’s ability to create more U.S. jobs or keep factories open, even in the face of pressure on the company to do so from President Donald Trump.
“We’ve got a feeling in this country right now that we want to make things here,” he said.
GM has a “business to run,” he said, “but we have a life to live and it’s spent in these facilities,” Bupte said. “We spend more time here than we do with our families and they’re the ones that suffer. This is all about taking care of your family.”
Jeff Browe, with 42 years of service at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, said job security needs to be a top priority for union bargainers.
“It sounds like progress is being made,” Browe said Monday on the picket line. “If it’s new jobs, any type of new job is good. Any number is good.”
Looking at his future retirement, Browe said he stands with newer workers at the plant.
“It’s about job security for the younger generation, people who have to put another 10 or 20 years in,” he said. “A lot of them can’t afford to buy the vehicle they’re making.”