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Hourly Workers at GM's Bowling Green Plant Join Nationwide Strike

Lisa Autry

There are no cars rolling off the assembly line in Bowling Green, or for that matter, any General Motors Plant in the nation.

About 900 hourly workers at the Corvette Assembly Plant are on strike after negotiations over a new labor contract hit a stalemate.

Some of the workers in Bowling Green are picketing outside the Corvette Assembly Plant,  joining roughly 49,000 of their counterparts in the first nationwide strike involving GM since 2007.

Credit Lisa Autry

GM employees walked off their jobs Sunday night at 11:59 p.m., 24 hours after their four-year contract reached in 2015 expired.  Among them was Jeffrey Myles who supports his family of seven with his GM position.

“I been out here since 3:00 a.m. standing in the hot sun, just trying to let people know that we all need to be treated fairly," Myles told WKU Public Radio.

One of the main sticking points in the contract negotiations is the use of temporary workers on a long-term basis.  Kelsey Bragg is nearing the three-year mark as a temporary worker at the Corvette Plant.

"I don't get profit-sharing, holiday bonuses, dental care, vision care," she explained. "I don't get days off. We get three unpaid vacation days, and we don't get anything that they get really, other than healthcare.”

Bragg says she works a full 40-hour work week, but earns half the pay of permanent employees for essentially doing the same work.  Job security is what she misses the most.

"There's fear," Bragg stated. "Every day you clock in, you think, 'If I mess up something today, I could be walked out at any time.'"

Bragg wants to see a clear cut path to permanent employment in the union's next contract with GM.  The Bowling Green factory currently has about 40 temporary workers, a relatively small percentage compared to other GM facilities.

Temporary workers are beneficial to automakers for helping with absenteeism and market fluctuations. Seven percent of GM’s total workforce is made up of temps and the automaker has hinted at increasing the number of those workers to bring GM more in-line with its competitors.

Another point of contention in contract talks is the use of a tiered wage system, which require some employees to work eight years before they gain full wages and benefits.  Jason Watson is a member of UAW Local 2164 and serves as the local bargaining chairman.  He says the union made lots of concessions to keep the automaker from bankruptcy during the Great Recession.

Credit Lisa Autry

“We want the company to succeed. We want them to be profitable or else none of us have jobs," acknowledged Watson. "However, we’re far removed from that point in time and they have positioned themselves as a company to be in a much better position.  Let’s now address some of those things that we compromised on years ago.”

Union leaders also argue the GM workers deserve a larger share of the company’s record profits, which they say have totaled $35 billion in North America over the past three years.  They also want a better pension plan and assurances that no more plant closures.  The strike comes nearly a year after the automaker shuttered five plants in the U.S.

Leaders at the Corvette Plant declined to give media interviews on Monday, but a company spokesman in Detroit issued a statement expressing disappointment that the UAW chose to strike.

"We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency," said Dan Flores, Manager of GM Corporate News Relations. "Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business.”

The offer put forth by GM includes more than $7 billion in investments and more than 5,400 jobs.

This is the first nationwide strike involving GM workers in 12 years. That impasse lasted only two days.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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