By MATT BLOIS
United Auto Workers officially started negotiations on a new contract at the national level for General Motors employees this week.
That contract will determine pay and benefits for union employees across the country, including the GM plant in Spring Hill, for the next four years. The current contract expires in September.
In a newsletter in May, UAW Local 1853 chairman Mike Herron warned union members that the negotiations could be contentious. Herron attended a national UAW conference in May about the union’s goals for the negotiation process.
“This Conference was very serious and as I have predicted for over a year and have warned our membership—This is the real deal,” Herron wrote in an email to union members in May. “There is a potential for a labor dispute as a result of the behavior that the company has exhibited. The union would prefer a good contract without having to go on strike however it is apparent we on a collision course.”
In the email, he cited UAW’s frustration with GM’s reliance on temporary workers and the company’s decision to move some production abroad. At the conference, a strike committee reviewed the process for strike pay, and Herron encouraged workers to start setting aside an emergency fund for a possible strike.
“It definitely was not a fire drill,” he wrote to union members in May. “This felt different than the previous sub committees that I have attended. The approach was all business.”
According to a GM website about the bargaining process, the union will likely have a chance to vote on a strike in August if they are unhappy with the progress of negotiations.
In a press release, GM CEO Mary Barra said the company looks forward to a productive discussion about the future for employees and the business.
The release pointed out that GM has invested $23 billion in American manufacturing operations over the last 10 years, and that the company accounted for about a quarter of all U.S. manufacturing investment since 2010.
In an interview on Friday, Herron said he still believes the negotiations will be tense.
“The General Motors corporation has been having a pretty good run for 10 years of record profits. They’re of the frame of mind that we’re making these record profits and we need to be ready for the next downturn,” he said. “The workers’ perspective is we want you to do that. We want to be part of the future, but we want to make sure our health care is protected. We want to make sure the workers are getting their fair share of the profits as well.”
Last year, the local union chapter and the local manufacturing plant in Spring Hill agreed on a contract concerning workplace practices like vacation time or safety requirements. Those negotiations are separate from the current, national negotiations which deal with wages and benefits.
Herron said the local contract in Spring Hill lasts five years, longer than some other facilities. He’s hoping that longer contract will signal to the company that the Spring Hill plant is stable, which could attract more investment.
In addition to wages and benefits, the national level negotiations can also determine where the company will build new products. In the 2015 contract, GM promised to bring an engine build program and added stamping capacity to Spring Hill, generating nearly 700 jobs.
Herron said the long term local contract signed last year positions Spring Hill to receive some of those types of investments in the current negotiations.
Negotiations started in Detroit, Michigan on July 16. The contract will expire at midnight on September 14.