DETROIT — The contract offer that General Motors made public just before the UAW went on strike effectively set the minimum for what workers expect from the automaker. But the longer the strike has dragged on, the more expectations have grown.
Getting contracts ratified already looked like a bigger challenge than usual going into this year's talks, as years of multibillion-dollar profits by the Detroit 3 stoked eagerness to reverse past concessions. Workers will have to vote for a deal while also considering whether the time on the picket lines was worth it, or if they should keep fighting for more.
"I don't think you ever get a deal that you want, but you have to get one that you can live with," Scott Ferguson, a paint repair worker at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, said outside the plant Thursday, Sept. 26, the 11th day of the strike.
GM's "first serious offer," as a top UAW official described the automaker's Sept. 15 proposal, included $7 billion in U.S. investment, keeping some jobs at two assembly plants targeted for closure, annual wage increases or lump-sum payments, $8,000 ratification bonuses and improved profit sharing. Experts say that offer, which GM took the unusual step of publicizing in the hours before the strike, may have raised the bar for what it will take to earn a "yes" vote.
The workers expect any deal UAW leaders bring them "to have better economics than what they had seen from that," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Even if union leaders are satisfied with a tentative agreement, getting members to ratify it isn't a given.
"I think the leadership is a little nervous that the contract might not get ratified," said Art Schwartz, a former GM negotiator who's now president of Labor and Economics Associates.
The union will find out what effect an ongoing federal corruption probe may have on the process, as workers could vote down a deal in retaliation against its leadership.
Nine people, including some UAW officials who were involved in negotiating previous contracts, have been convicted in the investigation, and a current regional director was charged with misusing union funds for his own benefit.
UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, also reportedly have been implicated after their homes were raided by FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor agents in August.
Recent history has shown that ratifying a deal can be challenging, even without a scandal looming over union leadership.
In 2015, workers rejected the first tentative deal between FCA US and the UAW, largely because it failed to address the membership's goal of "bridging the gap" between new and legacy worker pay. A later deal with Ford Motor Co. — which put new hires on an eight-year path to top wages, gave veteran workers their first raises in a decade and committed to $9 billion in plant investments — narrowly passed after officials drummed up just enough support from the last local to vote.