UAW-GM strike: Health care switch catches some striking workers off guard

General Motors puts pressure on union

Health care switch catches some striking UAW workers by surprise

DETROIT – General Motors made a bold health care move aimed at putting pressure on the union, and it has caught some striking UAW workers off guard.

Workers are still on the picket line as negotiations continue in Downtown Detroit.

On Tuesday, GM pulled the lever on one of its most costly options, pushing health care costs onto the union.

GM wants a quick end to the strike. Strikes are all about leverage, as evidenced by the UAW's first push shutting down all  of GM's United States plants, costing the company about $100 million per day.

While at once cutting its costs during the walkout, GM is forcing massive health care costs over to the union.

A letter by UAW-GM Vice President Terry Dittes to the company Monday presumed GM would keep UAW rank and file on the company health care plan until Oct. 1, but asked for clarification.

GM clarified Tuesday morning, saying the answer is no.

On Tuesday, the GM-UAW rank and file are on COBRA, the health insurance people buy when they lose their jobs.

"We understand strikes are difficult and disruptive to families," GM said in a statement. "While on strike, some benefits shift to being funded by the union's strike fund, and in this case, hourly employees are eligible for union-paid COBRA so their health care benefits can continue."

The upshot is the union strike fund, estimated at just under $1 billion, is about to shrink quickly under the weight of expensive health care premiums.

"It's a slap in the face," one worker said. 

"It is very disrespectful," another worker said.

"Solidarity forever," another worker said.

Workers outside the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit were disturbed by the news.

"Oh, I wasn't aware of that," one worker said. "It's the first I'm hearing about it."

Robin Richardson, of UAW Local 163 in Romulus, was furious.

"It means that they're going to make us, or try to make us, force us, to accept something we don't want to accept, and we're not willing to do that," Richardson said. "We're here for a fight."

The union's strike web page spells out what's covered under COBRA: medical and prescription coverage. It does not cover vision, dental or hearing.

Strike details

Leaders of the UAW union decided to initiate a strike Sunday against General Motors as contract negotiations went beyond a weekend deadline.

Workers started walking off the job over the weekend and by Monday morning about 50,000 union members were not reporting to their plants and manufacturing facilities.

Negotiations stopped without a deal Monday night, but talks were set to resume Tuesday morning.

Follow live updates here.

UAW strike assistance

According to the UAW, weekly strike pay is $250 per week -- $50 per day, Monday through Friday, beginning on the 8th day of a strike.

The UAW Strike and Defense Fund covers certain benefits such as medical and prescription drugs.  Benefits not covered include: dental, vision, hearing and sick and accident.

These benefits are either paid directly by the Strike and Defense Fund according to the company’s current plan or by having the Strike and Defense Fund make COBRA payments to the company plan.

For more information on who is eligible for these benefits, go here.

UAW strike against General Motors enters second day -- watch:

Union workers will strike for a second day.

Local 4 and ClickOnDetroit will be following this developing story -- follow live updates on the strike here:

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.