Wentzville GM workers rally for support as they prepare to strike as soon as this week
United Auto Workers members who work at the General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville are prepared to go on strike as early as this week if GM leaders don’t agree to the union’s contract proposals.
Workers, Missouri lawmakers and union leaders gathered at the UAW Local 2250 union hall Sunday, calling for GM leaders to increase pay 46% over four years, restore traditional-defined benefit pension plans for those hired after 2007 and make work-life balance improvements.
Dozens of UAW members and their families attended. They wore red union shirts and held signs outside the hall encouraging people to support the union.
The GM Wentzville assembly plant employs nearly 4,000 workers. The pay increase would allow the top-paid factory workers to receive $47 an hour, $15 more than they get now. Workers are also calling for GM to eliminate a two-tiered pay system and introduce a 32-hour workweek for 40 hours' pay. Local 2250 President Katie Deatherage said raises are critical, especially for those starting at about $16 an hour. She said these provisions would improve members' work-life balance.
“At one point we were six days a week for about five, six years, so the work-family life balance is just not there,” Deatherage said. “I understand they have a business to run, but they also have to understand that they can't run without us. We need to work together.”
UAW’s contract with GM, Ford and Stellantis expires Thursday. If workers strike, it would be the second time in four years. Following a strike in 2019, workers received two 3% wage increases and 4% lump sum payments over four years, an $11,000 signing bonus for full-time workers and a $4,500 bonus for temporary workers. Health care costs stayed the same.
The 2019 strike lasted almost two months, costing the state economy more than $40 million a week, according to the Center for Automotive Research.
Deatherage said that while those gains achieved as a result of the last strike were important, retiree benefits and pay need to be improved.
“Our retirees haven't received anything in a long, long time — several contracts,” Deatherage said. “They're the ones who paved the path for us, so we owe it to them and we owe it to those that come after us.”
GM leaders declined an interview request but pointed to a counterproposal on the company's website. The proposal presented to UAW leaders last week included a 10% wage increase. In a statement, UAW President Shawn Fain called the offer insulting.
Workers argue the negotiations are critical to restore concessions workers made during the late-2000s financial crisis when the company was facing bankruptcy.
“Once we did that, all General Motors has seen since that bankruptcy is profit margin after profit margin,” said Bob Dyche, a district committeeman for Local 2250.
He said that while workers were given profit sharing, the concessions have kept them back.
“Our wages right now, with inflation, we're down about $10 because all we've had in that last 15 years is, I want to say, four hard 3% raises where the other ones were lump sum,” Dyche said.
Union leaders, who represent about 146,000 workers nationwide, are also calling for more vacation, saying workers often put in 60 to 80 hours a week. GM’s latest proposal includes up to 18 paid holidays per year and would recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.
Workers like Sheila Robinson, who has worked at the Wentzville GM plant for eight years, said she’s missed family milestones.
“I've missed my grandchildren's birth, I can't turn back the clock,” Robinson said. “We need time with our family, those are memories that we have to keep making because as we get older, and when we do retire, we have to look back on it.”
Since the agreement, the plant has been a revolving door for workers, Deatherage said. She said GM leaders had told workers they would get those earlier concessions back once the company became profitable again.
“We're hoping to change that, we want to make this a career again for people,” Deatherage said. “These jobs were idolized back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and even early ‘90s, and the corporations took that away from us. We gave up everything to make them successful, because we need our jobs too.”