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In tentative UAW deal, GM trades cash bonuses for future flexibility

A month-long strike by the United Auto Workers appears to be nearing an end. The organization’s leadership approved a tentative deal with General Motors on Thursday, but workers will remain on the picket line until rank-and-file members vote on it over the next week or so. William Brangham reports and talks to Micki Maynard, a journalist who covers the automotive industry, about the details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A month-long strike by the United Auto Workers appears to be coming to an end soon.

    The UAW's National Council approved a tentative deal today with General Motors. Workers will remain on the picket line until the rank-and-file members vote on the deal over the next week or so.

    This deal will likely be the template for the UAW's upcoming contract negotiations with Ford and Fiat Chrysler.

    William Brangham has more about the terms of their four-year deal and what it says about the future of the auto industry.

  • William Brangham:

    The tentative deal does include a number of wins for the union, for one thing, more money. Most GM workers will get an $11,000 bonus upon ratification.

    There are wage increases and lump sum bonuses, and eventually the top hourly pay for permanent workers will go up to $32 an hour.

    Another key for the UAW, the new contract includes a quicker path to permanent employment for temporary and part-time workers, who have long earned less money.

    But General Motors got some of what it wanted, too. Three of four plants slated to close in Ohio, Maryland and Michigan will not reopen. A fourth assembly plant in Detroit that was slated to close will stay open and will build electric vehicles.

    Moreover, the contract doesn't guarantee any additional manufacturing or production will move back to the U.S. from Mexico.

    Micki Maynard is a journalist who follows the automotive industry and has written several books on the subject. And she joins me now from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Micki, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I checked off a few of the elements in this proposed deal. And we should say it still has not been signed by the rank-and-file workers. So it's still largely there, but not 100 percent.

    What stands out to you as the most significant parts of this?

  • Micheline “Micki” Maynard:

    Well, a couple of things.

    And as you mentioned in your setup, there are wins for both the union and General Motors. And one of the things that General Motors apparently got is, it doesn't have to make any specific promises about future investment.

    And if you understand how much turmoil the auto industry is in right now, that's a very important point for GM, because no one really can predict where the industry will be in four or five years. And so GM got a lot of flexibility.

    For the union side, the union got a lot of cash for its members. It's really stunning. There's an $11,000 signing bonus for the veteran workers, and the temporary workers who are not even full-time are getting $4,500 apiece. And apparently it goes into their paychecks a little while after the — if the contract is approved.

    And that's an awfully sweet bonus to vote yes for this contract.

  • William Brangham:

    One of the other issues that I know was a big point for the UAW was this issue for permatemp workers.

    For people who don't know what it's like in a factory, and the distinction between permanent workers and these permanent temporary workers, why was that so important for the union?

  • Micheline “Micki” Maynard:

    One of the founding tenets of the UAW, going back to Walter Reuther, was that everybody on the assembly line and in the other factories should be considered the same. That's the whole idea of solidarity.

    What this previous contract and the contract before that did was literally set up two tiers of workers, plus the temporaries. So you almost had three levels. You had the veteran workers, who got full pay and benefits. You had the newly hired workers, who got less pay and barely any benefits. And then you got the temps, and the temps were basically getting paid an hourly rate.

    And that is not the way the UAW has operated for most of its history. And I think the union was very eager to eliminate those tiers and try to get people all on the same page.

  • William Brangham:

    Three out of the four plants, as I said, that the UAW wanted to keep open are not going to stay open. There's no promise of moving jobs that have been moved to Mexico, that those will be coming back to the U.S.

    Do I read this right, but that is an ominous trend for American workers, is it not?

  • Micheline “Micki” Maynard:

    It's not a great development.

    To be honest, I don't think any of the four — all four of the four had a chance of staying open. I think there was some hope that Lordstown, which is near Youngstown, Ohio, might have gotten a product. There was talk about putting battery production into Lordstown.

    The Warren Transmission plant near Detroit and Baltimore were probably never going to reopen. The Detroit plant, which is called Detroit Hamtramck, or Poletown up here, that one is supposed to get electric truck production.

    But the interesting thing about that is that there's a start-up called Rivian which just got an order from Amazon for 100,000 electric trucks, and it's also going to build pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

    And so they're operating right down the road. They're a start-up. They have some money from Ford, and they have the big contact from Amazon, so GM needs to hustle if it wants to compete in that market.

  • William Brangham:

    We're seeing this proposed settlement, and this looks like, as you were saying, success for both sides.

    We're also seeing today 25,000 schoolteachers in Chicago going out on strike, following on the path of a lot of other school strikes that have been happening.

    When you look at the developments of today, assuming this deal gets ratified, what is — is this a one-off, or does this mean something more broadly for the labor union movement in America?

  • Micheline “Micki” Maynard:

    This is an awfully generous contract, if you're just talking about cash.

    I don't think other places can provide this kind of cash to their employees. The Chicago teachers strike is very interesting, because Chicago has a brand-new mayor, and I think she's actually a little sympathetic to the teachers. And the teachers walked out anyway because they have some very real concerns about their future.

    As far as the broader labor movement goes, certainly, in journalism, we're seeing a number of news organizations unionize that had never unionized before. There are unionization efforts going on, on college campuses.

    And I think people feel that they need someone to speak up for them and that there is value in solidarity. And as someone who, honestly, has been a union member all my life, and my mother was a union organizer, and my grandfather was a union organizer, I can completely understand why people want that feeling of solidarity.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Micki Maynard, thank you very much for helping us sort through all of this.

  • Micheline “Micki” Maynard:

    Always a pleasure.

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