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General Motors workers vote against UAW contract

The proposed contract between the United Auto Workers and General Motors faced rejection Wednesday after three major local factories joined two others in opposing the deal.

Workers at assembly plants in Wentzville, Missouri, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, voted Tuesday and Wednesday against the tentative agreement, the union announced Wednesday. And workers at a third plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, also voted against the contract, the local union confirmed.

UAW workers at GM plants in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and Lansing, Michigan, also voted against the contract.

Yet GM’s large plant in Arlington, Texas, voted in favor of the deal, its local union UAW announced Wednesday. This means there is still a chance the GM contract will be approved. The final vote could go down to the wire, according to Marc Robinson, a former GM economist and game theory expert who has blogged about the strike.

The large vote in favor of the deal in Arlington shows that much of the vote depends on how local union leaders explain or promote the contract, Robinson said.

The deals mark the biggest pay gains the union has won in decades, including a 25 percent increase in base pay over 4 1/2 years.

Opposition to the contract appears to come from veteran General Motors workers, disappointed that union leaders were unable to negotiate gains such as higher retirement benefits. The union also failed in its attempt to restore defined benefit pensions for all workers, but it forced automakers to increase their contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts.

“I think it’s pretty good overall. I think a lot of people are disappointed that retirees’ pensions and health insurance coverage haven’t been won back,” said Chris Viola, a GM employee at Factory Zero, an electric vehicle factory in Detroit, in a text message. Viola voted to approve the contract. “Many people hired before 2007 may have had both at one point, but lost them after a long layoff and reset their seniority.”

How a brash, little-known union leader secured record gains for auto workers

General Motors declined to comment until UAW workers finished voting.

When the deal was negotiated, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra welcomed it and said the company “can’t wait to get everyone back to work.”

UAW President Shawn Fain called these “record contracts” that squeezed out companies “every last penny.” But he also stressed that the decision was up to UAW members.

If UAW workers at GM plants vote against the contract, they could go on strike again. Union leaders could also try to negotiate a new deal for GM workers.

The tentative contracts came after a long period during which workers’ salaries did not follow with inflation, and after the union gave up some benefits during the Great Recession, when automakers were struggling to survive. The union managed to recapture many of these benefits in the new agreements, including restoring cost-of-living wage adjustments to compensate for inflation. It also eliminated wage levels that left new workers on a lower pay scale.

Bill Bagwell, a longtime GM employee at a parts warehouse in Ypsilanti, Michigan, said he voted against the contract.

“The tentative contract does not provide any work-life balance gains,” Bagwell said. “This provides very minimal gains to long-time employees, who are the ones who made sacrifices during the bankruptcy. And while we removed salary levels, we didn’t change benefit levels.

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