WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — As the clocked inched closer to Thursday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline between the United Auto Workers Union and U.S. automakers to reach a contract agreement, a retired General Motors worker described the mood at GM’s Wyoming Operation in term of pins and needles.
“It puts a lot of stress and strain on families. And these young families don’t need that today,” said Jennie Chatman.
She spent 22 years working for GM. A member of UAW Local 167, Chatman experienced the concessions workers made over the years to help the automakers. Now, she says it’s time the automaker gave back.
“We gave away paid holidays. They’ve lost pensions, cost of living,” said Chatman.
If the two sides could not reach a deal by midnight, UAW President Shawn Fain was expected to call for a limited walkout in the beginning, targeting critical parts plants.
The strategy could shut down nonstriking plants. Fain named those plans in a Facebook address Thursday night at 10.
But eventually, all 146,000 workers at the big three could walk out.
While an industry-wide strike would shut down automakers, it could also have consequences for the UAW, according to Grand Valley State University Economist Paul Isely.
“It’s expensive for the economy, so it’s going to start political pressure on them to bend. And it’s expensive for the UAW because they have to pay the strike wages,” said Isely.
Among the UAW’s demands are a 36% pay hike, an end to tiered wage systems and the most drastic change, a 32-hour work week.
“You’re going to have to increase your workforce in order to continue to produce at the same level. And there no workers,” said Isely.
There has been some give on the industry side. Ford CEO Jim Farley says his negotiators have made four offers, but hasn’t received any genuine counter offers from union negotiators.
“The trick is, is that the firms have to weigh how much do we give to labor, and how much do we use to invest into new technologies in automotive pieces?” said Isely.
Isely said the industry was already bracing for an increase in labor cost, somewhere in the 30% to 35% range.
“The totality of the UAW requests, depending on how you calculate it, is something like a 70%, 80% increase in labor cost,” said Isely.
And a prolonged strike could have a major impact on West Michigan’s economy.
Higher material and labor costs combined with fixed cost contracts with automakers have already hurt local suppliers.
Isely predicts a strike could result in plants closing and layoffs.
“Let’s say it goes past two weeks. Really what we’re looking at here is the potential of $100, $150 million a week out of the West Michigan economy,” said Isely.
“As they are laid off, they’re going to be buying less haircuts, less food, less TV’s. And that everybody else. So it bleeds out into the economy,” Isely added.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Jennie Chatman’s name. We regret the error, which has been fixed.