PHOTO: Drivers honk as General Motors workers protest alongside U.S. 31 Monday morning. / Photo by Alexander Willis
BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
Spring Hill’s General Motors plant, which sits just off of U.S. 31 and employs roughly 3,800 people, was mostly empty Monday morning — its assembly lines frozen still. The reason? The workers who would normally be toiling away at the plant have all gone on strike, standing in solidarity with more than 50,000 members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) labor union striking nationwide in a move to secure job security, fair wages and more affordable health care.
Members of the UAW and GM have historically met every four years to renegotiate a contract, which includes things like wages and benefits for GM’s roughly 180,000 employees across the country. On Sunday, negotiations fell through between UAW members and GM, with neither party coming to an agreement on a new contract.
Workers vowed to hold a nationwide strike starting Sunday night at midnight if an agreement could not be reached. Ultimately, an agreement was not reached between the two parties, kicking off the first nationwide UAW strike since 2007.
Tim Stannard, president of the UAW Local 1853 — the Spring Hill chapter of the UAW — said on Sunday that there were a variety of factors that led to the UAW’s decision to strike. Among the factors were job security, with GM closing five plants prior to Sunday’s negotiations, wages, which Stannard said “have been stagnant for quite a while,” and affordable health care.
One of the greatest factors that led to the strike, Stannard said, was protecting temporary workers.
“Part of the differences [between us and GM] were the use of temporary workers — we don’t agree with people being temporary, when we all hired in, you were permanent after 90 days,” Stannard said. “We’ve had temporaries for sometimes three, four years. They need a path to become permanent. They have health insurance, but it’s not comparable to a permanent worker. The wages are lower, their vacation time… it’s not comparable. They’re walking on eggshells — you could be gone tomorrow.”
Stannard said there are roughly 300 temporary workers currently assigned to the Spring Hill plant.
The strike begins
As the strike was set to begin at midnight EST, Spring Hill GM workers gathered together at the UAW Hall on Stephen P Yokich Parkway just before 11 p.m., all ready to descend on the plant, picket signs at the ready. The energy was high as workers discussed who would be protesting where, and when.
Stannard said once the strike began, the Spring Hill plant would not be able to operate, and that there could be some temporary collateral damage when it came to local auto part suppliers.
“Some of the suppliers; CLI, Comprehensive Logistics back here, they’ve already notified all of the workers that they’re laid off,” Stannard said. “I’m sure MAGNA, Ryder, Adient, they’ll all be laid off as their lines fill up and they can’t send their product to the customer. GM is the only customer for all these suppliers.”
Fast forward to Monday morning, and GM workers are continuing to strike at multiple locations near the plant, all in four hour shifts.
Among those protesting was Rick Allison, who has been a GM employee for over 20 years. Standing alongside U.S. 31 with other fellow workers, Allison said the support they’ve received from passersby had been strong.
“A lot of people don’t even know that we’re on strike probably, and those that do only know what they hear about it in the media, and unfortunately, the company’s putting a lot of that media info out there themselves, and it’s a lot of misinformation,” Allison said. “So we’re hoping that people can look into it for themselves and see what’s actually going on, what we’re actually out here fighting [for]: trying to get fair wages for the temporary employees.”
Allison continued to stress the importance of helping temporary employees, calling their treatment and compensation “horrible.”
“They’re making half of what the employee right next to them is making, and that’s just not right,” Allison said. “They don’t get profit sharing, they don’t get the bonus checks, they don’t get any kind of security. So it’s just horrible, and we’re trying to make that change.”
Back at the plant itself, a dozen or so workers could be seen near the visitors entrance, walking a circle with their picket signs. Standing with them was former GM employee Don Jackson, who said he would always stand with his “UAW brothers and sisters” — current employee or not.
“These people that argue against unions and against what we do as far as organized labor goes, they need to stop and think about [this],” Jackson said. “Do they enjoy social security? Do they enjoy different social programs? Do they enjoy health and safety where they work? Do they enjoy the standard of living that they have? Those are all things that organized labor, over the years, has fought for.”
Jackson went on to argue that when UAW members strike for better wages and conditions, the effects can be felt across the workforce, and not just by GM employees themselves.
“It doesn’t benefit just the organized labor, it benefits everybody,” Jackson said. “I know people that are working in places that are non-union that are making good wages, and the reason is because that company doesn’t want the union in there, so they’re giving their employees healthcare, they’re giving them the retirement, the 401k deductions. They are reaping the benefits of organized labor, and they’ve not even seen it.”
Discussions between UAW and GM are still ongoing. Stick with the Home Page for the latest on this developing story.