Whether they have decades of experience on the assembly line or were hired only months ago, many workers who walked off the job at General Motors plants last week said they were striking for the same reasons: getting equal pay for all employees, keeping health care costs low and creating a path for temporary employees to gain full-time status.
Tim Duplanty, a member of UAW Local 598 in Flint, Mich., said workers were fighting for fair wages and benefits.
"What we're asking for isn't going to send them over the cliff," Duplanty said. "If this company does get in trouble again, who do they come to first? The easiest spot for them to cut is labor costs. But now it's our turn."
Bill Duford, an assembly worker at a powertrain plant in Romulus, Mich., who has been with GM for 37 years, said the company needed to offer a solution that meets the union's demands.
"They need to come up with something for the temp workers, something for the new hires to move up [to full pay] quicker than eight years," said Duford, a member of Local 163. "Profit-sharing, if they can make that better, then that's great. Health care, we'd just like to keep our health care the way it is."
Meme Edwards, a team leader at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and strike captain at the plant's picket line Friday, Sept. 20, encouraged her team to remember why they were on strike.
"We're fighting for not just our future, their future — and the people after that, their future," said Edwards, a member of Local 22.
Temps don't know if or when they'll be hired in, and "they work directly across or with people who are permanent," she said. The plant, which builds the Chevrolet Impala and Cadillac CT6, is down to just 729 hourly workers. It is one of four U.S. plants that GM designated to end production, although a source said last week that GM had proposed keeping the plant open to build an electric pickup. Currently, the plant is scheduled to stay open through January.
The other three plants, including Lordstown Assembly in northeast Ohio, already have shut down.
David Bupte, a longtime electrician who works at Detroit-Hamtramck, said he wanted a contract that recovers hourly wages lost to inflation and other cost-of-living changes.
"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 the two contracts the UAW has agreed to 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."
John Hoover, another electrician at Detroit-Hamtramck, said he was fighting for future generations, who he believes won't be able to secure permanent jobs with GM as unionized workers.