United Auto Workers union members have voted to approve a new contract with General Motors despite the fact that a majority of the workers at GM’s assembly plant in Wentzville said no to the deal.
Still, the automaker became the first of the Big 3 Detroit firms to get a ratified deal that could end a contentious labor dispute and a series of crippling strikes.
A vote-tracking spreadsheet on the union’s website shows that with all local union offices reporting, the contract passed by just over 3,400 votes, with 54.7% in favor. A union spokesman on Thursday confirmed that the spreadsheet had the official totals.
The outcome was closer than expected after the UAW’s celebrations of victories last month on many key demands that led to six weeks of targeted walkouts against GM, Ford and Stellantis, the maker of Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles.
On Thursday the contract had a big lead in voting at Ford and Stellantis. Ratification was leading at Ford by more than 10,000 votes, with 66.7% of ballots in favor. At Stellantis, the lead was over 5,700, with 66.5% voting for the deal, according to the UAW website.
Voting continues at Ford through early Saturday with only two large factories in the Detroit area and some smaller facilities left to be counted. At Stellantis, three Detroit-area factories were the only large plants yet to vote, with tallies expected to be complete by Tuesday.
The three contracts, if approved by 146,000 union members, would dramatically raise pay for autoworkers, with increases and cost-of-living adjustments that would translate into a 33% wage gain. Top assembly plant workers would earn roughly $42 per hour when the contracts expire in April of 2028.
In Wentzville, at one of the four GM plants that went on strike, UAW 2250 production workers voted down the contract with 54.32% and 1,515 votes. Skilled trades workers approved it by a slightly higher percentage at 54.65 and 147 votes. Local UAW President Katie Deatherage did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
Workers at striking plants in Lansing Delta Township, Mich. and Spring Hill, Tenn.also voted it down, while union workers at an Arlington, Texas UV plant approved it.
At GM, about 46,000 nationally workers were eligible to vote on the deal, and about 36,000 cast ballots.
Workers said that longtime employees at GM were unhappy that they didn’t get larger pay raises like newer workers, and they wanted a bigger pension increase.
Keith Crowell, the local union president in Arlington, said the plant has a diverse group of workers from full- and part-time temporary hires to longtime assembly line employees. Full-time temporary workers liked the large raises they received and the chance to get top union pay, he said. But many longtime workers didn’t think immediate 11% pay raises under the deal were enough to make up for concessions granted to GM in 2008, he said.
That year, the union accepted lower pay for new hires and gave up cost of living adjustments and general annual pay raises to help the automakers out of dire financial problems during the Great Recession. Even so, GM and Stellantis, then known as Chrysler, went into government-funded bankruptcies.
“There was something in there for everybody, but everybody couldn’t get everything they wanted,” Crowell said. “At least we’re making a step in the right direction to recover from 2008.”
Citing the automakers' strong profits, UAW President Shawn Fain has insisted it was well past time to make up for the 2008 concessions.
President Joe Biden hailed the resolution of the strike as an early victory for what Biden calls a worker-centered economy. But the success of the tentative contracts will ultimately hinge on the ability of automakers to keep generating profits as they shift toward electric vehicles in a competitive market.
Thousands of UAW members joined picket lines in targeted strikes starting Sept. 15 before the tentative deals were reached late last month. Rather than striking at one company, the union targeted individual plants at all three automakers. At its peak about 46,000 of the union’s 146,000 workers at the Detroit companies were walking picket lines.
The Wentzville picket lines attracted national political attention and visits from U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Democratic Senate candidate Lucas Kunce, gubernatorial candidate State Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-NY, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, who at the time was running for the U.S. Senate but is now running for Bush’s seat in Congress.
In the deals with all three companies, longtime workers would get 25% general raises over the life of the contracts with 11% up front. Including cost of living adjustments, they’d get about 33%, the union said.
The contract took steps toward ending lower tiers of wages for newer hires, reducing the number of years it takes to reach top pay. Many newer hires wanted defined benefit pension plans instead of 401(k) retirement plans. But the companies agreed to contribute 10% per year into 401(k) plans instead.