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

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

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.


Kabul says no impact on security as US reduces troops to 2,500

The Pentagon confirmed the reduction of US troops on Friday in accordance with President Donald Trump administration’s November pledge to cut the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. (Reuters/File Photo)
The Pentagon confirmed the reduction of US troops on Friday in accordance with President Donald Trump administration’s November pledge to cut the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Kabul says no impact on security as US reduces troops to 2,500

The Pentagon confirmed the reduction of US troops on Friday in accordance with President Donald Trump administration’s November pledge to cut the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Reduction means the lowest level of US forces in Afghanistan since 2001, when the US invaded the country and ousted the Taliban
  • Taliban welcome the US move, describing it as important in the implementation of a historic deal signed by the group and Washington in February

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan National Security Council said on Saturday that the reduction of US forces in the country has no major impact on the security situation, as Washington announced it had met its goal of decreasing the number of troops to 2,500.

The Pentagon confirmed the reduction of US troops on Friday in accordance with President Donald Trump administration’s November pledge to cut the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

The troop reduction means the lowest level of American forces in Afghanistan since 2001, when the US invaded the country and ousted the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996.

“The reduction or increase of the American forces does not have any major negative impact on the fighting situation in Afghanistan,” Maulvi Rahmatullah, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, said in a video response to the Pentagon announcement.

However, Afghanistan’s vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said in a BBC interview on Friday that the “pullout risks more violence in the unstable country.”

He added that the American mission, which began 20 years ago, is not yet accomplished and that the US had made a mistake by conceding too much to the Taliban.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have welcomed the US move, describing it as an important step toward the implementation of a historic deal signed by the group and Washington in Doha, Qatar, in February last year, under which all US-led troops would leave Afghanistan within 14 months.

“We consider the decision as a good and effective step toward the implementation of the Doha agreement. We, the Islamic Emirate, are also committed to all sections of the Doha agreement,” Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News on Saturday.

He said the Taliban hoped that the Doha agreement would be fully implemented and all American forces would leave Afghanistan in the agreed timeframe.

“We consider withdrawal of the troops and leaving Afghan soil as a positive step for the people of the US and Afghans, and welcome it,” Mujahid said.

While acting US Defense Secretary Chris Miller said on Friday that the US was planning “further reducing US troop levels to zero by May of 2021,” he added that “any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based.”

As the Trump administration ends its term when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Wednesday, there have been few clues about what the new US government plans are for Afghanistan.