GM stops paying for health care for striking workers; union to cover costs as strike continues

Updated: Sep. 17, 2019 at 4:39 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - General Motors workers across the country remain on strike Tuesday morning after contract negotiations between GM and United Auto Workers Union continued into a second day. It’s the automaker’s first company-wide strike in 12 years.

A source close to the negotiations told CNN the meetings have been tense, and there is an ongoing but tentative schedule for future negotiations.

Nearly 50,000 workers in 19 states are striking. It began Sunday night as contracts expired, and UAW members say it will go on around the clock until contract negotiations are settled.

“From Michigan to Memphis, everything is still shut tight," said UAW Memphis President Glinder Louis. "We’ve had no word, no emails, no nothing. We are just staying hopeful and standing out here 24/7. Like I say, we will be here.”

At Memphis GM Customer Care and After Sales Center, 142 people are striking. They say they want better wages, affordable quality health care, profit sharing and more secure jobs for temporary workers, among other things.

Local union leaders say their No. 1 job is to support those around the collective bargaining table.

“We got our international reps around the bargaining table trying to come up with a compromise on benefits and temporary work, holidays, wages,” said UAW Memphis Vice President Jeffrey Thomas.

Economists predict the ongoing strike could result in lower manufacturing production.

“You don’t need parts if in fact you’re not producing cars,” said John Gnuschke, labor economist. “So the breakdown in the supply chain impacts a lot of companies, a lot of people in Tennessee.”

GM is losing hundreds of millions of dollars each day the strike continues. Gnuschke predicts the automaker will try to reach an agreement soon.

“It’s highly likely to be resolved quickly because both parties stand to lose a lot of money,” said Gnuschke.

On Tuesday, GM shifted workers’ health care costs to the union. It was initially expected that the company would cover health care costs through the end of the month. Now workers are eligible for union-paid COBRA.

Louis says the International UAW will take over the cost of insurance. Picketing employees can sign up locally Saturday. Louis says workers’ health care costs will be covered under their union dues.

On Tuesday, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose first president was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and members of the Mid-South Clergy came out in support of the workers.

“We, members of SCLC and concerned clergy, we stand in solidarity asking GM to grant the request of these workers,” said Rev. Walter Womack.

SCLC members plan to march with the local strikers in the coming days.

GM has offered a deal to workers, including more than $7 billion in investments and 5,400 new jobs, plus what the company calls best-in-class wages and benefits.

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