Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Striking Auto Workers Vote On Agreement


Auto workers have a tentative agreement, but it doesn't mean the strike is over. Nearly 50,000 UAW workers have been off the job and picketing and will continue, too, as their union weighs the agreement with General Motors. Workers wanted higher pay, job security, protection for their health benefits. Tracy Samilton is a reporter with Michigan Radio, and she's been attending those contract meetings. What's the deal look like?

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Well, there's things in here that people said that they wanted to see. There's definitely something in here for temporary workers. They actually get a week's paid time off for the very first time, and they have a path to full-time jobs after three years.

The folks who were hired after 2007 get a lower wage to start out. And it used to take them eight years to get up to the full pay of the other workers, and now they've reduced that by half, so it will only take four. There's also a really big signing bonus - if they do ratify the contract - of $11,000. I can't recall a bigger signing bonus, frankly.

MARTIN: So is that enough to do it? I mean, is there enough in there for workers to get on board with this?

SAMILTON: Well, the problems here are that in this contract there's no mention of - you plant over here in Michigan, you're going to get this product, and you over here in Texas, you're going to get this product, you're going to get this car to make. So that's unusual. So people are thinking, where is my job guarantee if I don't know for sure that they're giving me a car to make?

MARTIN: Right.

SAMILTON: And then they also - GM also closed four plants this year, and only one of them is going to get a new product. The other three are going to stay closed, and that's something people did not want.

MARTIN: Right. One of those plants is Lordstown - Lordstown, Ohio. Have you heard from workers there?

SAMILTON: Yeah. Lordstown, Ohio, folks came out to the meeting yesterday in really large numbers to advocate for rejecting the contract. They didn't get what they wanted, obviously. So I talked to a few of them. I talked to Mr. Debernardo - John Debernardo (ph). And he was really depressed about his plant not opening. This is what he told me.

JOHN DEBERNARDO: My wife, she can't move. She works at a university. And she has her mom here who's older. And my mom's older also. But they can't move, so we'll be apart. I've been there for 25 years. So I have at least five more years left. So it's tough.

MARTIN: So I guess if the deal goes through, if it gets approved, what's that going to mean, Tracy, for future union deals with other carmakers? Is it going to set a precedent?

SAMILTON: Yeah, it generally does. They'll go either to Ford or Fiat Chrysler, and they'll say, for example, hey, General Motors agreed to keep health insurance exactly the same, no changes. We want that from you. They also agreed to do - to help out the temps. We want that from you. So that generally is the way that it works, depending on which company they choose to go for.

MARTIN: Tracy Hamilton covering it all with Michigan Radio. We appreciate it, Tracy. Thank you so much.

SAMILTON: Glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.