On Sunday, the United Auto Workers voted to send 48,000 members working at General Motors facilities on strike as the union’s contract with the automaker expired. This is the first national UAW strike since before GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Tuesday morning marked the second full day of the nationwide strike, as contract negotiations between union leadership and GM continued. The union was pushing for a route for job permanence for temporary workers, a bigger share of GM’s profits for workers, and keeping healthcare costs for union members low, among other priorities. GM has countered by offering an investment in new jobs and facilities.
UAW leadership is under pressure to deliver a win, especially because the union has been dogged by a months-long corruption scandal that has sent at least one former senior official to prison and charged several other o over accusations of misuse of union dues. On Thursday, federal prosecutors arrested and charged another top-ranking UAW official with embezzlement.
VICE caught up with Jaron Garza, a 24-year GM veteran and union steward, from his post in his local union hall in Warren, Michigan, Monday night as he helped supervise strikers.
I've been at GM since 1995. I'm 46 years old, and joined right before my 21st birthday. I ran up a sizable credit card bill in school. My old man, he had a GM referral, a pamphlet to the Navy and then my school bill sitting there. He told me to choose one. I chose General Motors. He slapped the school bill on top and said, "This goes with that."
I’m a third-generation GM employee. My grandfather was Mexican-American. He came up from South Texas, worked in the fields, and then found a job up here at GM. He worked in a foundry in a farming community in Northwest Ohio. My dad also worked at that foundry, and I actually got hired there first, too.
I've been at this facility since 2006. It's kind of an abnormal workplace because it's an engineering and design center. Every other place I worked at had a factory. There are about 40,000 people who work here; it’s the size of a small college campus.
I'm an experimental product engineer. We basically take the car after they make the clay model and we birth the car into reality. We encapsulate it in fiberglass. I'm a molder by trade. I just got a skilled trade position after 24 years at GM.
My career has definitely had its hardships. I've had plants close on me. I got laid off, and I had to move from Ohio to Michigan. Before I got hired, in 1995, it took most employees 90 days to become permanent and reach full pay. It took me three years to reach full pay. I think that was the start of the decline of the standard of living within our industry.
I've worked with temps here on site that have been here for four or five years, making half of what we make. That's hard. That's not what the union stands for. When you work with somebody who's under the daily stress of not knowing if they're going to have a job when they walk in the next day or wondering if they're going to be able to get married or buy a car, it's pretty heartbreaking. Your bills are not temporary. Your family's not temporary. You can't plan a life around a job that doesn't have any security.
We allowed temporary people to come in as part of the collective bargaining agreement when GM went through bankruptcy [in 2009]. We even signed a no-strike clause. We made a lot of concessions back then. We’ve helped the corporation through hard times, and now it's time for them to invest in us, the people that actually helped them get through it. To be quite honest, if it wasn't for the UAW, GM’s product quality would be shit.
There's a lot of uncertainty in this union hall right now. When you walk off your job on a strike, there's no guarantee you're going to go back. The strike pay is $250 a week, and that doesn't kick in until your second week, just like any other job. As a skilled trades person, I make over $30 an hour, so that’s barely more than a day’s pay for me. It’ll put food on the table, but not much else. I’ve been saving for months, but I don’t know if others have.
I'm a strike captain, which means I've got to check in and make sure everybody's here so they can get credit to get their pay. We’ve got 14 gates here at the tech center [for picketing] so we’ve got to drop people off and pick them up for their shift, make sure they get bathroom breaks, that sort of thing. We also make sure everybody's comfortable here at the hall—we've got pregnant women here, people with disabilities, you name it.
Every day we're not at work we're taking money out of our savings, if you have savings. How are you gonna pay your house payment, or can you go get a tooth pulled? Nobody wins in a strike—GM’s losing money, too, I think I heard $50 million per day. But we're not trying to bleed the corporation dry. We just want what we think is fair.
I found out today that GM just canceled [their share of] our health insurance. We were supposed to hold onto that for up to a month and then UAW was supposed to pick that up if we were out on strike that long. But from what I hear, they [did it already].
Honestly, I’ve had some personal relationships with some of the [union leadership] who have been indicted. I feel betrayed. I’m disappointed. But at the end of the day, every person in this hall walking off their jobs—the guy standing next to me smoking a cigarette, I’ve known him for 20 years—we’re the end-all be-all power. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting downtown trying to make a deal for us.
Our membership is divided as anybody else in this country as far as politics is concerned. I would bet there's probably 50 percent Republicans in this hall right now and out on those picket lines. When push comes to shove, GM doesn’t give a fuck if you’re a Republican or Democrat.
I’m glad we had enough gumption in us to walk out. As volatile and as poisonous as politics are in this country, when it comes down to it, in this UAW hall, we're sticking together.
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