Why Philly GM workers — on strike for 40 days — voted down a deal that just got approved by its union
The vote shows the harsh reality of a strike: Though everyone is on the strike line together, there will be winners and losers.
Though union members voted Friday evening to ratify a contract and end a 40-day strike, General Motors workers at the Langhorne warehouse in Bucks County narrowly voted against the tentative deal.
The Langhorne vote, tallied Thursday evening, was 43-32, union leaders said.
The final nationwide vote count was 23,389 to 17,501. It ended the longest strike against the automaker since 1970, one that stopped work for almost 50,000 employees.
The disagreement among union members over the proposed contract is due in part to the makeup of GM workers on strike: The majority are manufacturing workers, not warehouse workers like those in Langhorne, and the deal appears tailored to manufacturing workers. It offers them a four-year timeline to get to a maximum pay of $32 an hour, which for some is double their salary now.
The deal is also more attractive to warehouse employees who were hired before 2015, offering them a similar road to get to the salary ceiling of almost $32 an hour. Newer hires, though, will max out at $25 an hour.
That’s a tough part of the deal to swallow, since workers went on strike in part to demand that workers in different “tiers,” determined by hiring date but who do the same work, be paid more equitably.
The division among the GM workers on the deal reflects the tough reality of a strike, especially one with so many different kinds of workers: Though everyone was on the strike line together, there will be winners and losers.
In Langhorne, the majority of the nearly 90 workers are more experienced and on the winning end of the contract, said union leader Tyree Pogue, who has worked for GM for seven years. The contract thus probably should have passed at his plant, he said.
“But it’s not just about us,” he said. “It’s about the new guys.”
He said he hoped the next contract would put everyone on the same pay scale.
GM workers went on strike hoping to claw back some of the concessions they made in 2009 when GM received a $40 billion government bailout to prevent it from shutting down. Now that GM is profitable, and CEO Mary Barra reportedly got a nearly $22 million compensation package in 2018, workers said they were owed their due. “We just want our piece of the pie" was a frequent refrain on the Langhorne picket line, which received an outpouring of community support over the last six weeks.
Aside from closing the pay gap among workers, they wanted a road for temp workers to become permanent and a stop to the closures of GM’s American plants. Many see the deal falling short on the temp worker demand, which offers a three-year time frame for becoming permanent. In Langhorne, it took about a year for temps to become permanent, union leaders have said.
Some, like Raina Shoemaker, a worker in Langhorne who was hired after 2015 and is on the lowest pay scale, were disappointed by the deal.
“They did a little bit better for the temps, I’m not going to say that they didn’t,” she said in an interview for In These Times last week. “But did I think they did enough? For everything that we’ve done, being out there for five weeks? No. They shouldn’t even have brought this to the table, to be honest with you."