By on August 26, 2020

Alleged absenteeism stemming from the coronavirus outbreak encouraged General Motors to place salaried volunteers on assembly lines in Wentzville, MO. This has not gone over well with the UAW, which suggests GM’s decision to utilize non-union staff is in direct violation of its 2019 labor contract. The union claims white-collar workers have no business being on assembly lines and has issued a formal warning to the automaker.

Established in 1983 as a stamping and production facility, the site is currently responsible for General Motors’ full-size vans (e.g. Chevrolet Express) and midsize trucks (Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon). The facility has room for 4,560 employees — most of whom are hourly. Those employees are split between the the usual three shifts, with GM claiming difficulties in keeping them populated.

In July, the company said it might have to reduce the plant to just two shifts before pressure from outside convinced it otherwise. This led to the automaker seeking about 200 temporary workers and placing ads with local outlets.

Until those positions are filled, GM says it’s had to ask non-union employees to help out around the factory — some of whom are being imported from facilities in other states. GM spokesman Jim Cain informed the Detroit Free Press that the number of salaried workers on the line in Wentzville varies by week. He claimed some weeks required very few helping hands while others required over two dozen temporary line workers, especially for the unpopular third shift.

The UAW isn’t having it. “We strenuously object to GM doing this,” said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the auto union. “The UAW believes it’s in violation to the recent contract … Paragraph 215 of the contract forbids this.”

From Freep:

Paragraph 215 in the contract reads in part: “Supervisory employees shall not be permitted to perform work on any hourly-rated job except in the following types of situations: (1) in emergencies arising out of unforeseen circumstances which call for immediate action to avoid interruption of operations; (2) in the instruction or training of employees, including demonstrating the proper method to accomplish the task assigned.”

GM’s Cain said he has not seen the grievance. He declined to comment further saying there is a process for evaluating and adjudicating such complaints. UAW’s Rothenberg said the grievances are filed first at the local level against GM where the local union and the company try to resolve the issues. If not, they get pushed up to the UAW International to resolve it with company.

Frankly, it looks like GM qualifies for exception one in Paragraph 215 of the agreement. UAW Local 2250 actually called for General Motors to close the plant entirely last June, and most of the missing employees are gone due to the aforementioned “unforeseen circumstances which call for immediate action to avoid interruption of operations.”

Cain said the automaker intended to continue using salaried and temporary employees to pad out Wentzville’s ranks until absenteeism declines, noting that GM wouldn’t have bothered taking staff away from their duties to be retrained for assembly if it wasn’t necessary. It seems prudent, in our estimation, but don’t think that the manufacturer isn’t also trying to flex a bit on the UAW.

[Images: General Motors]

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47 Comments on “UAW Slams GM for Allowing Office Staff on Assembly Lines...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “The union claims white-collar workers have no business being on assembly lines…”

    I happen to agree. Producing a quota of vans does not constitute an emergency; failing to do so is merely an inconvenience.

    And, are the white collar workers properly trained in each assembly process, and on all safety protocols? Didn’t think so.

    I’ve worked in mfg for 30+ years; I can design and test the product, but I can’t build it. And in my most recent world (medical), you need the *right kind* of people (trained) to do the work.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I have to agree with @ SCE to AUX. The white collar staff may be putting themselves in jeopardy. There is also the obvious breach of contract. In the good ol’ days, the UAW would have shut GM down. Times have changed, a warning was issued.

    • 0 avatar
      ttiguy

      @ SCE to AUX

      “And, are the white collar workers properly trained in each assembly process, and on all safety protocols? Didn’t think so.”

      Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

      You sound confused. The salaried staff aren’t being asked to do “skilled trades” type of work servicing the equipment. They are being asked to do things like load raw metal into fixtures in the body shop. So yes these workers are properly trained and know the safety protocols just fine. If you have conflicting info please share.

      Otherwise this is just typical TTAC trolling

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Thumbs up, ttiguy. Had he left it as a question, he would have been fine. Adding the “Didn’t think so,” throws an invalid assumption onto the statement.

      • 0 avatar
        Ralph ShpoilShport

        Show me the training records and I’ll agree with you. Otherwise, I’ll say this. I’ve been around here a long time. While I don’t always agree with SCE, and we all have our motives, I have found his comments to be thoughtful and reasonable. I have rarely found him confused. And while I agree that adding “Didn’t think so” was a mistake, it does not invalidate his point or make him sound confused. Without training records the whole conversation is moot, anyway. Do you know that these w/c workers received the proper training and know there are records to prove it?

        • 0 avatar
          SSJeep

          Newsflash: not every auto manufacturer assembly line position is skilled. And not all need weeks of intensive training. Removing slag from the machining process, for example, takes about 1/2 day of training for lockout procedures and proper safety gear (gloves, steel toed boots, hard hats, etc).

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @SSJeep – skilled labour by definition would be licensed tradesmen. You can train virtually anyone to do most of the work but that’s the question here, how much training did they get? Also the question of crossing trade lines.

          • 0 avatar
            Ralph ShpoilShport

            Who said anything about skilled? This is big auto business with many regulatory requirements, IATF 16949, etc. I would be inclined to believe ANY positions that directly affect the quality of the vehicle has job requirements that need to be met and records showing the workers competence to these requirements. I think this fact would be a considerable factor as to who wins this.

        • 0 avatar
          volvo

          @ Ralph Sh

          In reply to your last comment. I would bet that the winners from this latest UAW tactic will be:
          1. Right to work states
          2. Mexico
          3. China

          When you can’t keep the lines open why in the world would you not welcome help from employees working in the same factory?

          • 0 avatar
            Ralph ShpoilShport

            You are probably right, volvo. But this is where I agree (I think) with SCE: if there are customers waiting for them (by customers I mean retail or fleet orders) then ok, but otherwise, no. And then only if the office folks have proven competency for the tasks.

        • 0 avatar
          ttiguy

          @ Ralph Blah blah blah…..Clearly you have no idea what working in an auto assembly plant is like. Yes he’s wrong/confused/mistaken. Whatever. Believe what you like. Know that you’re both wrong though.

  • avatar
    Rocket

    “Paragraph 215 in the contract reads in part: “Supervisory employees shall not be permitted to perform work on any hourly-rated job except in the following types of situations: (1) in emergencies arising out of unforeseen circumstances which call for immediate action to avoid interruption of operations …”

    Sounds like they are indeed attempting to avoid interruption of operations, and COVID 19 was certainly unforeseen. I’m not sure how it could be more black and white.

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      I agree 1000%

      White collar has worked on the lines with union labor at union manufacturing plant where I work. Union is not objecting. There is appreciation for the shared effort to keep the business a going concern.

      GM is working to meet customer demand for it’s product. UAW needs to get on board.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I can’t fully agree, or disagree, with the UAW on this matter. When you are short on hands due to something as unusual as this pandemic, you take advantage of anyone who is willing to fill a slot on a temporary basis. I also believe it is good for the ‘white collar workers’ to get a feel for what the ‘blue collar workers’ have to do in their working environment. This can actually generate recommendations on how to improve the working environment for the union workers that said workers have become so used to they no longer notice it.

    As such, I think that as long as this cross-tasking is temporary and ONLY during this coronavirus event, the two groups should learn how to work together rather than at odds to each other.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I think the UAW doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this case. Or else their members haven’t being eating a lot of carry out food from their local restaurants. A couple of things here: 1. Salaried employees are a lot easier to get rid of; they may have been “vountold” to work the line. 2. Why do I think the salaried employees mysteriously end up on the worst jobs on the production line?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I think the UAW doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this case. Or else their members haven’t being eating a lot of carry out food from their local restaurants. A couple of things here: 1. Salaried employees are a lot easier to get rid of; they may have been “vountold” to work the line. 2. Why do I think the salaried employees mysteriously end up on the worst jobs on the production line?

  • avatar
    volvo

    I don’t know who is right or wrong in this instance but am pretty sure that upper management, of all auto companies, will remember this UAW tactic (and similar actions) when deciding where to expand or place new production facilities.

    Even in highly unionized EU countries the workers try to help make the company successful and financially stable.

    • 0 avatar
      Ralph ShpoilShport

      Are you saying the workers of the UAW don’t try to make there companies successful and financially stable?

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        The workers of the UAW couldn’t care less about profitability. They are a contracted labor force beholden to hourly pay and benefits negotiated by a rotten-to-the-core UAW management structure that has unironically thrown their membership under the bus more often than once.

        Frankly I am surprised that UAW membership has not openly revolted and started a completely separate collective bargaining union.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Ralph, that’s exactly it! GM was driven to failure and financial collapse in 2009 largely by the unreasonable demands of the UAW and collectively bargained to death.

        It should have stayed dead.

        But with the full faith and credit of the US Treasury backing, GM and the UAW have found their voice to mock the bailouts and nationalization funded by the taxpayers.

        Both GM management and the UAW feel free to stretch the limits of the envelope knowing full well that GM and the UAW will always get bailed out again, no matter who’s in office or who runs the Hill.

        • 0 avatar
          Ralph ShpoilShport

          Thanks for the response, hdc. Look, full disclosure, I am a GM hater. Have been for a long time. And I understand that the UAW had their part in all of that. But one, I think maligning all of the UAW is disservice to what I would say is most UAW/GM employees. Even as a hater I know that GM has many well capable, honest, hardworking employees. And two, the bad ol’ UAW did exactly what a lot of people (business execs and politicians, for example) do when they got some power – they abused it. But the UAW did not ruin GM. Product quality ruined GM. And that falls to management as much or more than the UAW.

          • 0 avatar
            volvo

            Totally agree with what you said in this post especially product quality which is 99% attributable to management and bean-counters who overrode material specialists and designers.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Ralph, I drove many GM products over the past 74 year of my life on this planet and was especially fond of Olds. My first new truck ever was a 1988 Silverado, pretty much on par for that era.

            But I call it as I see it. The death of GM was preventable. I was a heavy investor in automotive stock and made a killing in 2006/2007 when I divested of those blocks of stock prior to Carmageddon.

            But I was against the selective bailouts, handouts and nationalization of GM by BOTH administrations.

            The US gov’t did nothing for Overland, Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, Kaiser, Willy’s and any of the other automakers when they died in the past, but inferior GM was kept on life support and infused with more that $11BILLION dollars of taxpayers money.

            I realize it was all political and that is why so many hard working tax paying Americans have voted with their feet and their wallet, away from GM.

            So I’m NOT a GM hater but I do believe that there is better out there and Americans are fortunate to have the choices that we have.

      • 0 avatar
        volvo

        I stand corrected. I am sure the workers want to preserve their jobs and produce a successful product.

        On the other hand I have difficulty seeing where the UAW is coming from in terms of helping the company survive and thrive.

        US auto companies vs unions are incredibly adversarial and seem to ignore the larger issues at play. The 2019 UAW/GM agreement (697 page pdf) is available to read and is eye opening.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    Management has the right to staff those positions and those workers will be trained. Management will NEVER give up that right to staff production in a situation where workers won’t come to work and scheduled production is put in jeopardy. Case closed……and I negotiated scores of union/management contracts in my 40 years in manufacturing.

    • 0 avatar
      Ralph ShpoilShport

      Except that the excerpt from the contract above seems to disagree with you. “Supervisory employees shall not be permitted to perform work on any hourly-rated job except in the following types of situations…”

  • avatar
    Old_WRX

    Back in the late 80’s I worked as a project engineer at an oil refinery. The union decided to walk, so salaried were put on to take over their jobs. We had no shortage of skills or knowledge of safety. Quite a few of the white collar employees had considerable skill in the areas needed for refinery maintenance/operation. There were always record productivity and elimination of a backlog of maintenance items during strikes.

    They walked again two years later and the company shut down that refinery and sold it putting all the hourly out of (very well paid) work.

    I don’t know how it is at GM, but at that refinery management was tickled pink whenever they could stick it to the union.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    That could very well happen at Wentzville if the UAW persists. GM has plants in Mexico. The UAW is making this worse for their members.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      But as we have seen over the past decade, making them in Old Mexico with Chinese parts brings on its own set of unique problems.

      Add to that the better quality of interiors for RAM trucks and voila! GM in third place on trucks.

      At this rate of descent GM will fall in behind Titan in sales, fit, finish and overall customer satisfaction before too long.

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        Agreed highdesertcat, there are a LOT of people staying away from the Silverado now that the 1500s (including the crew cab) are all made in Mexico. For the truck buyers that can look past that, the interior and fit/finish pale in comparison to the RAM 1500 and F150. No surprise that they have fallen into 3rd place. And I happen to like the new Silverado 1500, but facts are facts…

      • 0 avatar
        ttiguy

        3rd place? You must be using one of the tricks your dear leader employs. Repeat a lie enough times and eventually people might believe.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Any company where there’s an adversarial relationship between management and labor is doomed to fail in the long run.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    This is the classic union work rule bs that put american automakers at a diadvantage for so many years.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      And it worked especially well for the UAW.

      So for MY money I would rather a buy a vehicle that’s made in America, by non-union Americans, for Americans.

      And Americans are so fortunate to have so many brands to choose from.

      In the case of GM, their products are on the way down, falling behind tiny Fiatsler in some case. I can see a merger with more Chinese automakers, a la Buick. GM needs a fresh infusion of yuan, not dollars.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “…I would rather a buy a vehicle that’s made in America, by non-union Americans, for Americans”

        Alabama Kias fit that description, as do all the other transplants, plus Tesla.

  • avatar
    Gregg

    The Thunderbird sold well for what it was. It was not a flop. It was Ford who had unrealistic ideas about projected sales numbers. This was an expensive 2 seater, in a shrinking category even back then. Two door coupes even with a back seat were beginning to be on their way out, as a redesign didn’t get more than an 18 month boost before sales fell off. A car like the Mustang could buck this trend, but few nameplates that used to have a two door coupe option has kept it. Even Mercedes is going to abandon the C, E and S coupes going forward. But two seaters? They get an even smaller audience. Ford learned that lession by putting in a back seat in 1858, causing sales to soar. Sales also got a boost when they reduced the price and bulk in 1977. But apparently Ford forgets its own history. The 2002 Thunderbird should have been seen as a niche or halo model. If they wanted more sales, they should have installed a back seat, or made it into a 4 door “coupe.”

  • avatar
    Michael S6

    So the UAW is slamming GM for trying to keep it’s plants going while it’s union workers are sitting at home ???
    So what is the UAW solution ? Hire more UAW workers or wait for a government bailout ?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would rather buy an American made vehicle even if it is a foreign make but even Toyota is making the Tacoma in Mexico. As for Chinese parts its not just GM but the other manufacturers as well using Chinese parts. All manufacturers are cutting costs when it comes to components. The carpet in vehicles has gotten thinner, plastic door handles, plastic exhaust manifolds, water pumps inside engines, and in general just a cheapening of overall quality in most new vehicles.

    As for GM it is just a matter of time till they are owned by the Chinese.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “As for GM it is just a matter of time till they are owned by the Chinese.”

      The Chinese didn’t want GM, not even in 2009 after GM died and China could have carried off GM’s carcass to Shanghai for dirt cheap.

      I doubt that has changed today since GM carries more baggage than Grand Central.

      Just the prospect of the authoritarian Chinese masters having to deal with the self-aggrandizing wannabe-authoritarian UAW, would make any loyal Communist Party member want to retch and hurl.

      So I understand why the last guy in office bailed out GM and nationalized its carcass 2009.

      But I don’t agree with it. Dead is dead. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Someone will take GM over eventually whether it be the Chinese, Koreans, or Indians. The Chinese might be interested in Buick. I doubt GM will totally go out of business. The Chinese if they owned GM might decide to not make anything in the US–there is always Mexico.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @JeffS: I agree. With a shift to EVs, the companies that might be interested are the consumer electronics and appliance makers. I could see LG being interested since they helped with the Bolt. Sony is acting like they might be interested in taking the car they’ve been showing a little further than just something for their CES booth. Chinese tech company TCL could be another. There is Samsung as well. Appliance/consumer electronic companies could be the next generation of mainstream automakers. It fits. Almost makes too much sense. In fact, I would rebrand the new Bolt and the Bolt CUV as LG now. It’s part LG already, so why not use their brand recognition. Which name would do better?

      Another company that could be interested is Vietnam’s Vinfast. They are definitely looking for US presence and by purchasing a US manufacturer, they could do it. They’re owned by a Vietnamese billionaire so they might have the money to do it.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        As for a takeover of GM by a foreign company? I would like to see Tata or Mahindra grab GM. Tata has been trying to get their trucks into the US for many years, so if they takeover GM it will be the Tata Silverado.

        But if they do, I hope they improve the Silverado because its design over the decades has been “evolutionary”, not revolutionary like Ford, Tundra, Titan and RAM.

        The 2020 Silverado still is essentially unchanged from my 1988 Silverado except that the engine is smaller and the tranny has more gears. The noise in the Cab is still just as bad if you turn off the noise cancellation by disconnecting the radio.

  • avatar
    DungBeetle62

    Had a friend who was with Microsoft at the peak time it was cool to be with them. I was going to buy his 1994 Accord Coupe because he was moving uptown to the BMW dealership. He took me along for the afternoon of test driving various permutations of 3-Series. I could not have bene more disappointed in the M3. I’d owned a 1978 Camaro and while it did have shocks and springs when you looked beneath, I can’t believe they had anything to do with the suspension or ride of that vehicle. Like the 1978 Camaro, the M3 rode as if the wheels were bolted directly to the car (though it DID corner better). Cost was no object for my friend (remember : Microsoft) but when asked for my opinion I favored the 328is with the sport package. “If I had to have that M3 as my daily driver I’d shoot myself”

    Although within 2 months he bought a boat. And than bought a Dodge Ram to pull it with, so maybe the M3 would’ve worked for him?

    But that Accord Coupe did not disappoint. Holy smoke that was a great car.

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