DETROIT -- This week, General Motors' UAW workers received their first strike paychecks of $250.
The pay is less than half of new hires' weekly wages of about $680 and roughly a quarter of tenured workers' more than $1,000 per week. It comes out of the UAW's more than $700 million strike fund.
Nearly three weeks on the picket line at low pay and frustration over GM's temporary health insurance halt could make workers more critical of a potential tentative agreement. Still, multiple presidents at UAW locals said morale is high.
"It's not easy living on $250 a week, but they still believe in what they're doing," said Ralph Morris, president of UAW Local 163 Romulus Powertrain near Detroit. "It's early right now, but some are at a low pay and not making a living wage. But we have had donations" of food and other household items, Morris said.
Thursday marks the 18th day of the UAW's strike against GM. More than 46,000 hourly workers at GM plants have been on strike since Sept. 16 after the automaker and the UAW failed to reach a new labor agreement before their previous contract expired. Thousands of other GM workers have been idled in Canada and Mexico, along with thousands more at GM's suppliers.
On the UAW side, "everybody was told to save and be prepared. There are locals that are working with food banks. The strain is starting to show on both sides," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
If the strike continues until Oct. 6, GM will have lost $660 million in profit, according to Anderson Economic Group, a firm in East Lansing, Mich.
UAW members and nonunion workers who have been laid off will have lost more than $412 million, according to the firm.
As the strike creeps closer to a month, most of the workers' household bills will come due. And making only a couple of hundred dollars a week, some workers are financially strained. Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits rose to a four-week high last week, according to Bloomberg. Workers affected by the strike may have submitted some of those filings, even though striking workers typically are not eligible for unemployment benefits, according to Bloomberg.
UAW workers have received food and other donations from nearby businesses, which has lessened the pinch on their budgets, especially for temporary workers and new hires who make $15.78 and $17 per hour respectively.
Some workers on the picket line said they saved money, paid bills early or work second jobs to prepare for a strike.
"Some of them are struggling, but most of them prepared for the long haul," said Holli Murphy, president of Local 2209 in Fort Wayne, Ind. But she agreed that workers remain in good spirits.
Still, most would rather be working, said Mike Warchuck, president of Local 653 in Pontiac, Mich. "Obviously, they would like a fair settlement sooner rather than later," he said.