UAW Sets GM janitorial workers contract to expire; strike could halt auto production

UAW sets GM janitorial workers’ contract to expire; strike could halt auto production
Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free PressPublished 7:22 p.m. ET Sept. 10, 2019 | Updated 9:57 p.m. ET Sept. 10, 2019

UAW logo
UAW logo (Photo: Jessica J. Trevino, Jessica J. Trevino, Detroit Free)

The UAW has notified the contractor that provides janitorial services at auto plants that it is ending a contract extension at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, the same time the union’s contract with the Detroit Three expires.

That could be significant because if the union called on some of the Aramark janitorial workers to strike, it could disrupt plant operations. For one thing, GM’s UAW members would not cross a picket line. Also, those workers do jobs key to keeping the plants operational, said a UAW member familiar with Aramark worker’s role.

The UAW is in the middle of bargaining with General Motors for a new four-year tentative contract. The current agreement with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler expires at midnight Sept. 14, and the union has chosen to negotiate with GM first.

In a letter obtained by the Free Press, UAW GM Department Vice President Terry Dittes informed Oliver Zeidier, the senior director of labor relations for Aramark Janitorial Services, that the UAW will continue to negotiate a new contract with Aramark, but it will let the extension on the current contract with Aramark expire at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14.

GM has outsourced many of its plant janitorial jobs and some other operational work to Aramark. The automaker has a contract with Aramark to manage service jobs at five GM sites: GM Metal Center Parma in Cleveland, Flint Assembly, Flint Engine Operations, Flint Metal Center and the Technical Center in Warren.

GM said, “We have contingency plans in place to cover any potential disruptions.”

Separately, the UAW has summoned all of its GM local union officers to Detroit for a meeting Sunday. In a Sept. 5 letter sent to local union leaders, Dittes told local union presidents and shop chair people at GM plants to arrive in Detroit on Sept. 14. They will meet Sunday morning.

The Sept. 15 meeting is believed to be at 10 a.m., said people familiar with the matter. But the purpose of the meeting, which will include UAW International staff chosen by their regional director, is vague.

“We will not know the agenda until hours before the meeting,” Dittes wrote in the letter. “It may be to vote on a tentative agreement, or the company’s current offer on the table, or other necessary actions.”

About 200 union officers are expected at the meeting, said a source. They compose the UAW-GM National Council. If a tentative agreement were struck between the UAW and GM by midnight Sept. 14, that council must review it and ratify it before it’s presented to the membership for its review and ratification.

If there is no agreement by midnight, but the UAW gets an extension on the current contract, negotiators may discuss the sticking points with the council.

Finally, if there is no agreement by midnight and it appears that a strike might happen, the UAW council will meet to go over a strike strategy.

Dittes’ letter last week said talks were progressing slowly, blaming GM.

A GM official, separately, said last week that the company was “working hard to understand and respond to UAW proposals, and we have offered to meet as often as needed.”

On Monday, GM spokesman David Barnas underscored that: “GM’s goal is to continue having constructive discussions with the UAW on reaching an agreement that builds a strong future for our employees and our business.”

More: UAW, GM officials offer differing views of contract talk progress

More: UAW workers brace for potential strike, remember the unity of past walkouts

The UAW is bargaining with GM to seek a template for later talks with Ford and FCA.

The UAW, which represents nearly 150,000 hourly workers at GM, Ford and FCA, negotiates a new contract with the automakers every four years. In 2015 it led with FCA. If the UAW leadership believes it must strike, members at all three companies have voted to authorize one.

The UAW’s rank-and-file want a base wage increase. They also seek to protect benefits and to narrow the wage gap between those hired after 2007 compared with those who’ve worked at GM before 2007. They also want to establish a plan for temporary employees to go permanent and mitigate job injuries, among other things.

But job security is a critical issue too. Many union members have been angry with GM since November, when it announced planned idling of four U.S. plants — Lordstown in Ohio; transmission plants in Warren and near Baltimore; and Detroit-Hamtramck, which is the only one continuing to operate.

At the same time, a cloud hangs over the UAW as a long-running corruption investigation that started with the union’s joint training center with Fiat Chrysler has spread to a UAW worker in the GM Department. Current union President Gary Jones’ suburban Detroit home was raided last week, as was the California home of Jones’ predecessor, Dennis Williams.

For its part, GM and other automakers seek to control costs amid trade and tariff uncertainties, unclear fuel economy standards and a predicted economic downturn on the horizon that could hurt sales. Health care costs are some of the highest for automakers and that also remains an issue.

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com

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