Ready to Strike, Auto Workers Union Begins Talks With GM

United Auto Workers President Gary Jones speaks during the opening of their contract talks with General Motors in Detroit on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT (CN) — The United Auto Workers voted to authorize worker strikes Tuesday as the union begins negotiating with General Motors on a contract that is meant to inform future bargaining with Detroit automakers Ford and FCA US.

While the talks get underway, new details are emerging about a corruption probe the FBI began in 2015 into illegal negotiations. Last week agents conducted raids on the home of UAW President Gary Jones in suburban Detroit as well as the home of Jones’ predecessor at the union, Dennis Williams. The UAW’s northern Michigan conference center and a regional office in Missouri were raided as well.

Though originally focused on the misappropriation of union funds at FCA, the raids have recently been expanded to probe vendor contracts at General Motors.

The UAW represents approximately 150,000 workers, an overwhelming number of whom voted to authorize the strike option if necessary. On its website, the UAW said Ford voters were 95.98% in favor, while GM and FCA authorized the strike at 96.4% and 96%, respectively.

“No one goes into collective bargaining taking a strike lightly. But it is a key tool in the tool belt as our bargaining team sits across from the company,” Jones said in a statement. “Ultimately, the company holds that destiny in their hands as they bargain. Clearly the UAW stood up for them in a very dark time, now that they are profitable it is time for them to stand up for all of us.”

General Motors drew critical remarks from President Donald Trump in November 2018 when CEO Mary Barra announced that the company would idle two plants in Detroit and five overall in North America in a restructuring effort designed to keep the automaker competitive.

The current contracts with the UAW are set to expire Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. Workers could strike immediately then or agree to a temporary extension as talks continue.

 “Mary Barra said from the outset of these talks that we will stand up as we tackle a changing industry. We are ready to stand strong for our future,” Jones said. “We are focused. We are prepared and we are all ready to stand up for our members, our communities and our manufacturing future.”

In a response published by General Motors, David Barnas said the company was ready to negotiate but would not address the vote authorizing strikes.

“We look forward to having constructive discussions with the UAW on reaching an agreement that builds a strong future for our employees and our business,” he said.

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