DETROIT — General Motors has reversed last week's decision to cancel health care benefits for striking UAW members, saying Thursday that it would fully restore coverage in response to "confusion" over the issue.
The flip-flop prompted more criticism from a top union official, who said the automaker was "toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of our UAW families."
GM, in a note to union members, said: "Throughout this negotiation, GM has said that our number one focus was on the well-being of our employees. That remains the case today."
More than 48,000 workers at GM and its janitorial contractor remain on strike for the 11th day as the automaker and UAW leaders negotiate a national labor contract covering wages, benefits and job security.
On Sept. 17, the day after the strike began, GM told the UAW that it was terminating health care benefits, although workers continued to receive COBRA coverage paid for by the union's strike fund. UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg called the decision "cold, heartless and immoral" at the time.
"One minute they say they care about their workers and next GM is cutting off people's lifeline," he said.
Some workers on the picket lines said they didn't know if they were covered or how to sign up for temporary benefits through COBRA.
"Given this confusion, GM has chosen to work with our providers to keep all benefits fully in place for striking hourly employees, so they have no disruption to their medical care, including vision, prescription and dental coverage," GM said.
If workers have an insurance claim, they should submit it for coverage, GM said.
"These irresponsible actions by General Motors are toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of our UAW families," Terry Dittes, vice president of the UAW's GM department, wrote in a letter Thursday to Scott Sandefur, GM's vice president of labor relations.
"It is time for GM to come to the bargaining table with an offer that reflects the hard work of our Members," Dittes wrote in the letter, which the UAW released publicly.