Striking UAW Workers' Healthcare Now Back on GM's Tab
As reports point to progress in efforts by General Motors and the UAW to reach a tentative collective agreement and resolve the now 12-day-long strike, the automaker has removed a contentious element of the drama. Announced Thursday, GM will resume covering workers’ health benefits.
GM withdrew the coverage early into the strike, forcing hourly workers to go through their union to fund temporary COBRA plans. As one would expect, GM’s about-face hasn’t left UAW all smiles.
In a letter from a GM labor official to UAW Vice President Terry Dittes outlined by CNBC, the automaker says it backtracked after seeing the “significant confusion” that resulted from its move. At the time, GM said the practice of removing coverage from striking workers was standard operating procedure. It would seem this latest move is more of a goodwill gesture than a realization of error.
After all, a dwindling UAW strike fund would serve to boost GM’s bargaining position. Cynical thinking? Maybe.
Certainly, Dittes wasn’t in a mood to thank GM for its graciousness. In a letter fired back at Scott Sandefur, GM’s North American VP of labor relations, Dittes chastised the automaker for its initial callousness.
The letter, in part, reads:
On Monday, September 16, 2019, I wrote to you via email to get a status update regarding our Members’ health care. On Tuesday, September 17, 2019, you provided an answer that our striking members and their families no longer had health care coverage. You also wrote, “Our employees should be eligible for COBRA paid for by the UAW fund so that their health care benefits can continue.” The same day you informed me that health care was no longer in effect I sent correspondence to all UAW Local Leadership informing them of such.
Finally, a week after terminating benefits, you write me a letter dated Wednesday, September 25, 2019, and received on Thursday, September 26, 2019, stating, “GM has chosen to work with our providers to keep all benefits fully in place for striking hourly employees.”
These irresponsible actions by General Motors are toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of our UAW families.
Late Wednesday, Dittes told UAW members that negotiations were progressing, claiming, “All unsettled proposals are now at the Main Table and have been presented to General Motors, and we are awaiting their response.”
On the ground, GM dealers claim that, while their stock of new vehicles remains sufficient to tide them over, the supply of replacement parts is already dwindling. Many dealerships report a backlog of customers awaiting custom-order parts.
[Image: James R. Martin/ Shutterstock]
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Stopping healthcare for a moment was merely a shot across the bow to remind UAW workers how good they have it already. It’s from the same hardball playbook as announcing closure of several plants before the strike. Instead of fighting to get more, the Union has to focus on fighting keep what it has now. Job security at unprofitable plants, free healthcare, or wage increases. Choose one. As for antagonizing the workers/union.... nothing GM could do would make them happy, so why even bother to try? The relationship is an antagonistic one, has been since the 70’s, and isn’t going to change.
You know what they say: "Don't bite the hand that feeds the health care system which is profiting from your chronic conditions while actively working to kill you with medical errors."