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Rod Meloni: There's a tentative agreement but the UAW-GM strike isn't over

UAW On Strike sign out in front of the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. (WDIV)

DETROIT – OK, let's not mess around. You want to know what's in the UAW-GM national contract.

Local 4 News has confirmed the tentative agreement starts with $9 billion in new plant investment. Most of that will be UAW-GM work, but a sizable chunk will be for joint ventures, which often do not pay the same scale.

One of the UAW's most important demands was to keep the best in the nation health care plan. It will. GM agreed to improved care at no extra cost. There's another concern, the In-Progression pay scale and how to better handle temporary employees. They are interconnected in the new deal.

In GM's bankruptcy, new UAW rank-and-file members needed eight years to get to full pay. The current deal cuts that time in half. It also is helpful for temporary employees who will qualify for In-Progression benefits after three years on the job. Temporaries are expected to see a singing bonus, as well.

There are other complicated details to all of this that we've not been able to see just yet. Let's be clear the union is doing everything it can to keep details away from guys like me and so far have done a good job of it. Still, there are corners of the deal that had already been settled and should have stayed stable although anything could have happened at the last minute. Up first is the pay. They'd settled, as of Tuesday, on 3 percent raises for the rank and file in two of four years of this contact. That is up from the original 2 percent originally offered.

The other two years will come with a lump sum bonus. The rank and file signing bonus will be $9,000. That's a hefty chunk but will likely disappear when you consider the strikers are likely to miss three paychecks. Dr. Arthur Schwartz, a former GM national contract negotiator and labor consultant, says the 31-day strike won't entirely negate the signing bonus: "An assembler makes $1,250 a week. So, five weeks is $6,250. This would more than make up for it, although I am sure they were hoping to spend the entire ratification bonus on things other than making up for the bills they didn't pay over the last five weeks."

Finally, it appears when it comes to plant allocation, GM will commit to building an electric pickup truck at the Detroit Hamtramck plant and build a new, but smaller battery assembly facility near the sprawling old Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant.

The rank and file will tell you they signed up for a strike that would last one more day than General Motors. On this point, they appear to have succeeded. Members clung to that mantra Wednesday, even as the very chilly October winds whipped across their plant gates and the chock-full burn barrels worked overtime. That was the scene that played out as we were at the Ypsilanti Service Parts Operation on Wednesday.

It's been a costly, painful month fighting a bare-knuckle brawl with their employer. The Anderson Economic group of Lansing estimates GM has lost something on the order of $2 Billion and the rank and file nearly three quarters of a billion dollars. Now, for those of us who get paid to monitor these UAW-GM strike negotiation talks like a watched pot, this 31-day strike has felt endless. So, when the tentative agreement announcement came just before noontime, there was a collective sigh of relief and yet we all looked at each other as if to say, "That's nice, but this is far from over."

The UAW national contract comes with a lengthy process to get from tentative agreement, to completed deal, to ramped up production. First the national subcommittee comes to town. At GM, there are roughly 200 union local presidents and shop committee chairpeople. They will meet Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. inside the Detroit Renaissance Center Marriott hotel where they will hear the specifics of the deal and discuss whether to ratify.

Dr. Schwartz says of this process: "They want the council to say yes but they also want to hear from the committee if they think there is going to be trouble with ratification because they didn't get the Chrysler agreement ratified in 2015 and they don't want to go through that again, especially with the cloud over the union." At the end there, he's referencing the federal investigation into UAW corruption. Should the subcommittee say all is well and vote to send the contract to the rank and file, it will likely take about a week to hold education sessions at all the locals and then hold votes. Usually, this process takes two weeks; but that is when everyone is on the line and they hold the meetings around differing shifts worked at the plants.

Now that everyone is off the job, these education sessions and votes will likely happen much more quickly. Still, if either the subcommittee or the rank and file say no to the deal, it's back to the bargaining table and this long strike gets much longer and more costly. Finally, should everyone say yes and the rank and file head back to the plants, it will still likely take another week or two before General Motors gets back up to full operation.

The work stoppage had major ripple effects and Wednesday, we learned more about problems at the  dealer level. It turns out when GM stopped shipping parts during this strike, the pipeline at the dealership repair shops completely dried up. Dealers are desperate to get needed parts and are doing what they can to exchange parts they have with other dealers for parts they don't. But a lot of needed repairs are not getting finished. All the loaner vehicles are out and thousands of vehicles requiring important parts are sitting collecting dust. This is the kind of inconvenience that hurts a car company's reputation. Last week, we profiled the Phoenix trucking company of Dearborn. It's problems are not unique and something that might add to this frustrating consumer problem. Phoenix is sitting on with trailers filled with GM parts.

They are doing what they can to pay their bills. But the company that owns the leased trailers is threatening to repossess them without concern what's sealed inside. This could further delay the parts delivery. So, Thursday's meeting is vital to more than the 47,000 GM employees. Timely education meetings and votes become more important, too. This walkout once again proved the old-adage: "No one wins in a strike." Point made! Should this strike end in days, it is still far from over. Let's not forget, this is a pattern bargaining system. When and if GM finally settles, it's on to either Ford or FiatChrysler to negotiate their national contracts. Here's hoping there is no need for another strike.


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