The one-month strike against General Motors by the United Auto Workers has taken a financial toll on both sides. The company has lost an estimated $2 billion in profit, and GM workers subsisted on strike pay that is considerably less than their normal paycheck.
The agreement announced Wednesday is tentative until it is ratified by the UAW and workers are sent back to their jobs. The sooner that happens, the better. GM is a major contributor to Western New York’s economy, which is in no position to absorb a major disruption.
About 3,000 workers from the GM Tonawanda plant and a GM components plant in Lockport have been idled. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated about 46,000 UAW workers may have lost $2,000 in profit sharing payments and as much as $4,000 in take-home pay. Less money in local workers’ bank accounts creates a ripple effect in our economy. In addition to everyday goods and services, some have put off big-ticket purchases such as cars, a new roof or furnace, or even a new house.
Not many details have emerged on terms of the tentative deal. Bloomberg News reported it includes $9 billion in investment in U.S. plants, signing bonuses exceeding the $8,000 workers got four years ago, and annual pay raises and lump-sum bonuses over the life of the contract.
Reportedly the deal also includes a new path for temporary GM workers to become permanent employees, one of the hot-button issues that precipitated the strike. Sources told Bloomberg the deal would let workers attain full-time status after three years of temporary service. However, the clock would start over when temps are sidelined due to scheduled downtime at a plant. It remains to be seen if UAW members will accept that clause.
Workers feel justified in pressing for more pay and job security from GM, citing concessions they made when the company filed for bankruptcy protection during the auto industry crisis of 2009-09. At the same time, it was unaffordable labor contracts that helped bring about the company’s bankruptcy filing.
Since then, though, GM has made a comeback that would make Bills quarterback Josh Allen envious. The company has generated pretax profits of nearly $23 billion over the past two years. Its revival has also been good to its Western New York plants. GM announced in 2017 it would invest $296 million in the Tonawanda plant, and about $35.5 million in the Lockport site. Last July, the company said the V-8 engine for its 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray will be made at the powertrain plant in Tonawanda and the Lockport plant will supply components.
GM is bullish on Western New York and its workers. It’s to everyone’s benefit to get them off the picket line and back on the job.
If a strike lasting 31-plus days can have a silver lining, there is this one: Fellow Western New Yorkers rallied around neighbors in need, bringing them food and water, rain gear, gift cards and firewood to burn when the temperatures drop.
FeedMore Western New York held mobile food pantries in Tonawanda and Lockport. The organization reported it distributed food to more than 100 households at the Lockport location, and about 150 households in Tonawanda.
Those who expect Western New Yorkers to rally around their neighbors in distress are seldom disappointed.