DETROIT (CN) – The United Auto Workers’ strike against General Motors has stretched into its third week with no end in sight, as some workers who applied for a union-sponsored supplemental weekly payment of $250 received their first check Tuesday.
Stephanie Carpenter of Trenton, Michigan, a machinist picketing Tuesday outside GM headquarters at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, said it is heartbreaking to work next to someone who doesn’t make the same wage or is ineligible for profit-sharing checks. She feels for temporary workers who generally don’t have the savings to sustain during the strike.
In the first few days of the strike, more than 50 workers would fill the sidewalk and voluntarily walk the picket line outside the Renaissance Center. They were often serenaded by car horns from passing drivers beeping their support.
On Tuesday, Carpenter was among only five picketers. She said in an interview that many of the workers were on tight budgets and couldn’t afford to spend money on parking and gas. Several more got sick from picketing in the rain.
Carpenter picked up her $250 strike benefit check Tuesday, but when asked how she would live on it, her answer was succinct.
“You don’t,” she said, adding that her savings from profit-sharing payments would help her get by.
UAW workers are eligible for strike benefits if they apply and agree to walk picket lines in shifts at their respective plants. They are afforded free parking at the plant and the numbers of shifts are determined by the number of gates and available workers.
Workers are demanding a wage increase and want to maintain their costs of health insurance benefits. They also want more production in the United States and an increase in the hiring of temporary workers. GM wants workers to pay more for their health care.
Both sides worked through the weekend, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press. There are separate negotiations happening on behalf of custodian workers who are dispatched at five GM plants and employed by Aramark.
Last week, GM reinstated company medical benefits for the striking workers after nine days of intense backlash from seemingly all angles. The UAW Strike and Defense fund normally covers insurance premiums during a work stoppage, but an issue arose over the timing of when the switch would occur.
A Sept. 26 letter from UAW Vice President Terry Dittes did not mince words about the automaker’s move.
“These irresponsible actions by General Motors are toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of our UAW families,” he wrote. “It is time for GM to come to the bargaining table with an offer that reflects the hard work of our members who make you successful and will settle this strike on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of UAW families, and stop toying with our families’ health and well-being.”
The Detroit News reported that GM said the reversal occurred was because too many workers were unclear on who had coverage.
Dittes said in an update last week that all “unsettled proposals were at the main table and have been presented to General Motors.”
Harmony Schmidt of the Detroit suburb Eastpointe is a second-tier “progression” production employee hired after 2007. Progression workers make about $17 an hour, which can rise to $28 an hour after eight years. Workers who are classified as third or fourth-tier are not eligible for profit-sharing checks. General Motors wants more temporary workers in order to remain flexible for economic ebbs and flows, but those workers want more benefits and paid time off.
A legacy employee, one hired before 2007, earns $28 to $33 an hour. Skilled trade workers can make up to $36 an hour with several opportunities to earn overtime compensation.
Schmidt said in an interview she would pick up her strike benefits check Tuesday.
“I’m grateful for it, but it’s not enough,” she said.
Automakers point out that the average U.S. worker pays 28% of their health care costs but UAW workers pay only about 3%.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have visited UAW picket lines to support the striking workers. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently visited a plant in Hamtramck. Michigan. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg stopped by Reno, Nevada to support striking workers last week.
The concept of greed was not lost on Schmidt as she talked about her relationship with GM.
“Any person who works for a multibillion-dollar company deserves to have their share,” she said.
According to a recent study by Anderson Economic Group, UAW workers have forgone $266 million in lost earnings with $68 million of that translating to federal taxes.
“We estimate that GM is now facing $25 million per day in lost profit, and we expect that daily loss figure will continue growing as long as the strike continues,” said CEO Patrick Anderson.
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