By Clint Confehr
SPRING HILL, TN — The atmosphere on GM’s assembly line here might be tense now, but not hostile, one union official said, noting the local 51-49-percent vote against contract ratification.
Nationally, 57 percent of United Auto Workers voted to end the strike started Sept. 16 and ended Oct. 25 while picketers advocated equal pay for equal work by temporary workers and full-time employees.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” full-timer Dedrick “Dee” Wells said, recalling conditions he felt before becoming an elected union official. “I worked day in and day out beside temporary employees, and I got to see how it affects them spiritually. It tends to drain someone when they have to do the exact same thing for less.”
UAW Local 1853 Bargaining Chairman Mike Herron said, “The temporaries wanted to be hired; not three years from now, but now.”
Insufficient retirement opportunity was another reason many strikers voted against ratification.
Marlon “Mo” Brown, a production worker who puts tires on- and fluids in cars being built, said the strike wasn’t about money.
“It’s about principle,” Brown said. “If you work there, you really feel it …
“Job security, that’s what this strike was about,” Brown said. “We owe it to ourselves to be sure that a lot of this work stays here because we do deal with these products. It just makes sense to keep the work here.”
Herron explained a number of workers were transferred to Spring Hill from the Lordstown, Ohio plant. “They were not happy that there was no product allocated [to that plant closed in March] because many of those folks … have family and homes in the Lordstown area.
“It’s done now,” Herron said. “We’ll be holding the company accountable.”
Some union members worked “voluntarily” last weekend to prepare the plant to make cars, Herron said. Others restarted production on Monday.
Sept. 16, “everything was stopped in process” when 50,000 people walked, he said. This week, they’ve been completing cars started in early September.
Oct. 22, three days before ratification, tragedy struck Local 1853 with the accidental death of long-time union member Roy A. McCombs, 55, of Columbia.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Herron said. “There was a grandmother driving her two grand babies to daycare” at about dawn on an east-west bridge over U.S. Route 31. “There hadn’t been traffic” Herron said. “All of a sudden one of the first vehicles came…
“As this strike started, we prayed for the safety of all our team members,” he said noting 3,500 picketers were scheduled “24-7” and were in constant danger along highways. Hundreds attended McCombs’ celebration of life Oct. 24.
The next day, International UAW President Gary Jones announced the union would start bargaining with Ford.
The 40-day GM strike was reportedly the longest in 50 years.
“I was prepared for this for a long time,” Brown said Saturday. Individuals have to take care of themselves, he said. “It seems GM looks for the cheapest way to take care of business.”
Wells was prepared “financially,” he said. But as the strike continued, it did “start to drain you spiritually when you’re fighting day in and day out to be compensated fairly.” As for the contract, “I don’t feel like we got more than we deserve and I don’t feel like we got less than we deserve.”
Brown says, “This strike was bigger than GM. It was really to showcase to every working person what holding hands and being unified can do.”
GM pays in arrears. An $11,000 ratification bonus is to be paid Nov. 15.