LANSING (Great Lakes News) – The sun rose on UAW members on the picket line today as day 23 of negotiations between the union and General Motors began. Picketing begins early in the morning before sunrise, and continues through most of the day.
Outside of the Lansing Grand River Assembly plant, a troupe of seven strikers held their signs in solidarity with their fellow UAW members. They stood behind plywood signs asking passersby to honk in support, holding their own signs and extinguishing their spent cigarettes in a water bucket filled to the brim with spent tobacco products. The Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant, or LGR as one picketer told Great Lakes News, is the second-newest GM assembly plant in the United States. The plant employees 1,637 workers and produces Cadillacs and Chevrolet Camaros. Governor Gretchen Whitmer chose to visit the larger (2,778 workers) Delta Township Assembly Plant yesterday, despite it being further away from the capitol.
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At the front of the picket line was a man named Craig Collier, a GM employee of 20 years and a UAW member in good standing. He works at the body shop in the LGR and wears a Harley Davidson skull cap. Collier was upfront about the striker’s hopes and moral.
“We’re still waiting for GM and UAW to get on equal grounds and trying to get an end to this,” Collier said. “We’re all getting tired of coming out here, we want to go back to work.”
For Collier, the premier issue in the negotiation is how GM treats temporary employees.
“They want to hire employees and put them on temporary status for an undetermined length of time. They can hire an employee and say they are temporary and four years later that employee can still be temporary,” Collier said. “It’s just not fair to those employees to be treated that way. Less pay, less benefits, less time off, 90 days should be a cap on that.”
Collier spoke with rehearsed determination, making sure to keep his sign pointed towards oncoming traffic while he answered questions. He believes his fellow strikers will remain determined despite how hopeless negotiations might seem.
“We’re here for the long haul, everybody’s still in good spirits we’re still supporting UAW,” Collier said. “We would like to see it come to an end, but we’ll stand as long as we have to.”
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As negotiations enter the fourth week, the reality of that statement becomes increasingly difficult. Over the weekend, UAW members received a message from their president announcing major setbacks in negotiations. The announcement came as a blow to strikers.
“It was a little disappointing, we had been getting some reports that it was getting close and then it fell back again,” Collier said. “Strike pay is not much, it helps you get by but it’s not enough to live on for sure.”
According to a representative of UAW chapter 625, Collier’s chapter, strike pay is only $250 a week and requires members to donate time to the union.
“Members must do 4 hours of strike duty a week to receive strike pay,” said the representative.
Members can fulfill their strike duty requirements through multiple avenues. They can work the picket line, volunteer at the union hall, help run the kitchen that feeds strikers, and help distribute strike pay.
Further complicating the discussion is the ongoing federal probe into alleged bribery and kickbacks that has charged 11 people connected with the UAW, nine of which were convicted. The investigation has also implicated UAW President Gary Jones, but has not convicted him. GM is using the investigation as a pressure point in the negotiations, but the faithful in the picket line are not concerned with the allegations.
“I don’t think anybody puts a whole lot of focus on that,” Collier said. “A lot of its hearsay, a lot of its unproven fact, we’re more focused on getting a contract resolved than people’s dirty laundry. GM might try to exploit that in their own way, but I don’t think UAW members are buying it.”
As the strike nears one month in length, the picket line will stay occupied. Every sunrise marks one step closer to resolution, or another day without pay, depending on how you look at it.