Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers have walked out of General Motors facilities in the first nationwide strike in 12 years

General Motors Co. employees get their strike assignments at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 163 which represents GM’s Romulus Powertrain on September 15, 2019 in Westland, Michigan. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers have walked out of General Motors facilities in the first nationwide strike in 12 years

  • Late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!.”
  • A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy

DETROIT/WASHINGTON: The United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike at General Motors just after midnight Sunday and about 48,000 hourly workers at its facilities are headed for the picket lines in the morning, union officials said early Monday.

US labor contract talks reached an impasse on Sunday, the UAW called for the first nationwide strike at GM in 12 years. “We do not take this lightly,” Terry Dittes, the UAW vice president in charge of the union’s relationship with GM, said at a news conference in downtown Detroit on Sunday.

“This is our last resort.” GM said in a statement that its offer to the UAW during talks included more than $7 billion in new investments, 5,400 jobs — a majority of which would be new — pay increases, improved benefits and a contract-ratification bonus of $8,000.
“We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” the automaker said.

Late on Sunday, US President Donald Trump on Twitter urged the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!.” GM spokesman Tony Cervone said the automaker “couldn’t agree more” with Trump’s call.

A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader US economy. Prolonged industrial action would also cause hardship for GM hourly workers on greatly reduced strike pay.

GM’s workers last went out on a brief two-day strike in 2007 during contract talks. A more painful strike occurred in Flint, Michigan, in 1998, lasting 54 days and costing the No. 1 US automaker more than $2 billion.

No further talks were scheduled before the strike is set to begin, a union spokesman and GM said. Talks are set to resume on Monday at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).

The union has been fighting to stop GM from closing auto assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, and arguing workers deserve higher pay after years of record profits for GM in North America.

GM argues the plant shutdowns are necessary responses to market shifts, and that UAW wages and benefits are expensive compared with competing non-union auto plants in southern US states. In its statement, the automaker said its offer to the union included solutions for the Michigan and Ohio assembly plants currently lacking products.

A person familiar with GM’s offer said that could include producing a future electric vehicle in Detroit. It could also include turning a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, into an electric vehicle battery plant or going through with the proposed sale of the plant to a group affiliated with electric vehicle start-up Workhorse Group Inc.

A new battery plant could give some UAW workers at Lordstown the chance to remain with GM. The closure of Lordstown drew widespread criticism, including from Trump, who met with GM Chief Executive Mary Barra on Sept. 5. Ohio is crucial to Trump’s re-election bid in 2020.

But several Democratic presidential candidates said they backed the UAW, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Tim Ryan.

Sanders noted GM received a US-taxpayer funded $50 billion bailout a decade ago. “Our message to General Motors is a simple one: End the greed, sit down with the UAW and work out an agreement that treats your workers with the respect and the dignity they deserve,” Sanders said in a statement.

Biden said on Twitter he backed the UAW’s demand for “fair wages and benefits for their members. America’s workers deserve better.”
The union has framed the plant closures as a betrayal of workers who made concessions in 2009 to help GM through its government-led bankruptcy.

“General Motors needs to understand that we stood up for GM when they needed us,” Ted Krumm, head of the union’s bargaining committee in talks with GM, said at the Sunday news conference. These are profitable times ... and we deserve a fair contract.”

The UAW says significant differences remain between both sides over wages, health care benefits, temporary employees, job security and profit sharing.

The strike will test both the union and GM at a time when the US auto industry is facing slowing sales and rising costs for launching electric vehicles and curbing emissions.

Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research (CAR), said the strike at GM’s US facilities will also shut its plants in Canada and Mexico as the automaker’s supply chain is so integrated.

“That’s going to have a big effect on the economy,” she said. GM starts off the strike with healthy levels of inventory of some its key, high-margin vehicles.

As of Sept. 1, the automaker had 96 days supply of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, 59 days supply of its Chevrolet Equinox SUV and more than 100 days supply of the Cadillac Escalade.

If the strike is short, hourly workers should not suffer much. But strike pay provided by the UAW, which has been building up reserves in preparation for possible industrial action, is just $250 per week.

The automaker has 12 vehicle assembly plants, 12 engine and power train facilities and a handful of other US stamping plants and other facilities.

On Friday, the UAW announced temporary contract extensions with Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) while it focused its attention on GM.

The union had targeted GM as the first automaker with which it wanted to conclude contract talks. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which transports some GM vehicles to dealerships, said it would honor the UAW’s GM picket lines.


New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

In this picture taken on February 14, 2020, a Malaysia Airlines hostess (R) wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a Chinese passenger before she boards a flight to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 5 sec ago

New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.
South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, the US government said the more than 100 American passengers who stayed on the ship or were hospitalized in Japan would have to wait for another two weeks before they could return to the US
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.