Why I’m Voting No on UAW’s Deal With GM: A “Third-Tier” Worker Speaks

Mindy Isser October 18, 2019

Raina Shoemaker, a General Motors employee and a UAW member, speaks to the press from the picket line. (Photo by Mindy Isser)

After 33 days on strike, the lead­er­ship at the Unit­ed Auto­mo­bile Work­ers (UAW) has nego­ti­at­ed a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with Gen­er­al Motors (GM). Near­ly 49,000 UAW mem­bers — con­cen­trat­ed most­ly in the Mid­west, with a few plants scat­tered in the South and North­east — will stay out until their con­tract is rat­i­fied. And although union lead­er­ship has encour­aged the rank and file to rat­i­fy the con­tract, many work­ers are unhap­py with the high­lights of the pro­posed deal. Numer­ous work­ers at the Gen­er­al Motors plant in Lang­horne, Penn­syl­va­nia, tell In These Times that local union lead­ers are trav­el­ling to Buf­fa­lo, New York today, to read the full ten­ta­tive agree­ment. Mem­bers have until Octo­ber 25 to vote the con­tract in or to send the bar­gain­ing com­mit­tee back to the table.

There are many impor­tant issues fac­ing UAW mem­bers and lead­er­ship dur­ing this con­tract fight. The lead­er­ship is under a watch­ful eye by both its mem­bers and the media, thanks to mul­ti­ple cor­rup­tion scan­dals. But work­ers them­selves are con­cerned about a myr­i­ad of issues: health insur­ance, giv­ing tem­po­rary work­ers a path to become per­ma­nent, clos­ing the gaps between dif­fer­ent tiers of work­ers, and keep­ing GM plants in the Unit­ed States. This ten­ta­tive agree­ment does not appear to solve many of these prob­lems — and, in fact, allows the clo­sure of three plants.

In These Times spoke with Raina Shoe­mak­er, a GM employ­ee and a UAW mem­ber at a facil­i­ty in Lang­horne, Pennsylvania.

Mindy Iss­er: Tell me what you do, and how long you’ve been at Gen­er­al Motors.

Raina Shoe­mak­er: I work in the GM Cus­tomer Care and After­sales (CCA) facil­i­ty, where we dis­trib­ute parts to all of the dif­fer­ent deal­ers. I’m in the Philadel­phia one that’s on the East Coast. What I do is I pick parts, fill orders, and then they get shipped out. I’ve been at GM for four and a half years.

Mindy: What’s your reac­tion to the ten­ta­tive agreement?

Raina: Well, the agree­ment doesn’t bring all of the temps onto imme­di­ate hir­ing stage: I would like to see temps become per­ma­nent with this new con­tract. If you’ve made your 90 days, you should be brought on per­ma­nent. That’s what we want­ed with this con­tract. GM has increased some time off for temps, but not near­ly enough, I don’t think. Because it’s such a phys­i­cal job that we have, our bod­ies break down. So you need that time off, and we cher­ish that time off, because we need that time to rest our bod­ies. So I think it’s lousy for the tem­po­rary employees.

Mindy: What about for you? You are a tier-two work­er, right? Could you explain what being a tier-two work­er and what a tier-three work­er means?

Raina: Under the new con­tract, in the man­u­fac­tur­ing plants where they make the auto­mo­biles, they are all on the same payscale. For your first year, you’re paid $17 an hour. But four years lat­er, you’ll be at $32.32. Every­one in the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant gets to that max­i­mum wage. In the GM Com­po­nents Hold­ings plants, where they make cer­tain parts, they are all on the same payscale, but that payscale is low­er. You only max at $22.50 after eight years there, which I think is just wrong.

At the CCA, where I am, there are mul­ti­ple pay scales. The top scale peo­ple, which we call tier one, they’ve been there for­ev­er. They have pen­sions. They max out at $31.57. With this new con­tract, the scale below them, which we call tier two, they max out at around the same pay. But they don’t get a pen­sion — that’s the big dif­fer­ence between them now. 

You can con­sid­er me tier three, which they call in pro­gres­sion.” It takes me eight years to max out, and my max rate is $25. But we are in the same build­ing, doing the exact same work. At these oth­er build­ings, they’re all in the same build­ing, doing the same work, with the same pay scale. But not here. There are dif­fer­ent pay scales that go all the way down to the temps, and if you take them all, there are four tiers. We’re still not con­sid­ered one whole union, like we’re not all equal. 

It’s just not a good con­tract. You can say you want the rat­i­fi­ca­tion bonus, yeah, they’re giv­ing us $11,000, they’re giv­ing the temps $4,500, just to sign the con­tract. That’s a one-time deal. That’s just not good enough. I don’t even want to look at that. If you take that out of the equa­tion, the rest of the con­tract is lousy.

Mindy: Do you think your cowork­ers feel the same?

Raina: I think a lot of them do, yes. And you know, they’re not even bring­ing back any of the jobs from the facil­i­ties that they’re clos­ing. Those plants are done. So we didn’t even get job secu­ri­ty because of that. So I hope every one of those work­ers from Lord­stown and some of the oth­er plants, I hope every one of them says no to this con­tract. Because we’re going to need numbers.

The only plants that look real­ly good right now are the man­u­fac­tur­ing plants, some of the facil­i­ties that build the cars. They have a pret­ty good deal there. But the prob­lem with that is they’re gonna all vote yes. 

But GM, their future is to not man­u­fac­ture any­thing in this coun­try. They’re on their way to just take every­thing across the bor­ders. And the only thing that will be left for GM in the future is the parts divi­sion that I’m in. Because you need to be able to get the parts to ware­hous­es and then dis­trib­ute them. But do I see man­u­fac­tur­ing stick­ing around at all? Not the way that GM is going. They just want to keep throw­ing things into every oth­er coun­try, Mex­i­co espe­cial­ly. They want to pay their peo­ple $3 an hour. They don’t care. An Amer­i­can com­pa­ny should real­ly be an Amer­i­can com­pa­ny. And when you’re putting things every­where else but Amer­i­ca, then I don’t look at you as an Amer­i­can com­pa­ny anymore.

Mindy: You said that your plant would be safe in the Unit­ed States. Why do you care about the oth­er work­ers across the coun­try? Is it just because you think an Amer­i­can com­pa­ny should be an Amer­i­can com­pa­ny and work in the Unit­ed States, or is it some­thing big­ger, like you’re con­cerned about the oth­er mem­bers of your union?

Raina: I’m total­ly con­cerned about the oth­er mem­bers of the union. They’re fam­i­lies. GM is play­ing with their lives. They’ve bro­ken down their bod­ies for 30-plus years, many peo­ple, for that com­pa­ny. And then GM turns around and doesn’t care. GM just looks the oth­er way. Peo­ple need these jobs! This coun­try is going in the wrong direc­tion, it’s not even fun­ny. And it’s not just GM, it’s oth­er big cor­po­ra­tions. They’re just leav­ing. They don’t even care. The mid­dle class is just get­ting small­er and small­er and small­er. And pover­ty is just get­ting worse.

Mindy: Do you think this con­tract will be ratified?

Raina: I hope not. But I don’t know the num­bers. Any­one in a CCA I think will vote no. Any of the man­u­fac­tur­ing plants that are clos­ing, I think they’re all going to vote no. I don’t know if we got the num­bers. I hope we do vote no. Because this is a lousy contract.

Mindy: What were your hopes for this contract?

Raina: Con­sid­er­ing I’m in the third tier, my hopes were to at least be brought up to the sec­ond tier. That was my hope: to bring peo­ple more equal. More as one, the whole union. And it’s just not. They did a lit­tle bit bet­ter for the temps, I’m not gonna say that they didn’t. But did I think they did enough? For every­thing that we’ve done, being out there for five weeks? No. They shouldn’t even have brought this to the table, to be hon­est with you. I think it’s an insult. I do.

Mindy: What are the next steps for the union?

Raina: Local elect­ed lead­er­ship is going to Buf­fa­lo to hear every­thing, to be told why this is such a great deal. And then it’ll be brought to us, the mem­ber­ship, and then I guess we’re going to be told why this is such a great deal. I’m not drink­ing the Kool-Aid, sor­ry. And I hope none of us drink the Kool-Aid. We need this vote to be exact­ly the way we need to vote, and that’s no.

Mindy: Any big take­aways from this strike? 

Raina: My big take­away is what we feel amongst each oth­er: the uni­ty. But we don’t feel the uni­ty from the high­er up union offi­cials. I just feel like they’re not fight­ing enough. I don’t know what the oth­er side is say­ing. I’m not in that room with Gen­er­al Motors. They’ve got mul­ti bil­lions of dol­lars, so are they will­ing to lose anoth­er 2 bil­lion? Prob­a­bly, because it’s like chump change to them, they can do it. They’ve got that much mon­ey. And do they care that they hurt us as we sit on that pick­et line? No, they real­ly don’t.

And obvi­ous­ly they don’t care too much about their deal­er­ships, because the deal­ers are real­ly hurt­ing at this point. And that’s their cus­tomer. I don’t get it.

It breaks my heart that big com­pa­nies real­ly don’t care about any­thing except the bot­tom line. They don’t care about people.

Mindy: Is this your first strike? What did you think about going out on strike for the first time? Did you have any fears about it?

Raina: I didn’t have any fears about it. I thought it was def­i­nite­ly about time, because I know what we endure every day in that facil­i­ty. I know how bad our bod­ies break down. I know that we deserve to be paid for. Espe­cial­ly the ones that are in the tier that I’m in. I know we need­ed to keep our health care good. A lot of us get hurt. We’re con­stant­ly twist­ing, bend­ing, turn­ing, walk­ing 8 to 10 miles a day on a floor that’s stronger than con­crete. It real­ly breaks your body down. I real­ly think that this was time. Because they don’t see it.

Our super­vi­sors in our facil­i­ty, the ones that are now doing our jobs, have actu­al­ly voiced to me that they want us to come back so bad. One of our super­vi­sors said, I hope you get every­thing you’re ask­ing for.” That’s huge, for some­one like that — a super­vi­sor who super­vis­es us every day — to say, I hope you get every­thing you’re ask­ing for.” Because they’ve endured for five weeks, a small five weeks, what we do, and have been doing, for mul­ti­ple years.

Mindy: Back to the big take­aways from the strike, a lot has been writ­ten about com­mu­ni­ty sup­port. Do you think it’s helped keep morale high?

Raina: We’ve got­ten huge com­mu­ni­ty sup­port that we are so thank­ful for, espe­cial­ly from Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA), which you know a lot about. Unbe­liev­able. Our hearts are so warmed from the com­mu­ni­ty and all the oth­er unions and DSA. We can’t say enough: thank you. I wish we could do oth­er than just say thank you. It’s just over­whelm­ing. And every­body feels the same way, we all talk about it. That’s one of our main things: We can’t believe the sup­port we’ve got­ten. Every­one is sup­port­ing us except GM.

Mindy: Why do you think every­one is sup­port­ing you so much?

Raina: Because I think we have so many mid­dle class, hard-work­ing peo­ple that feel like they’re being treat­ed unfair­ly in their own jobs, whether it’s union work­ers or non-union work­ers. They just feel that it’s get­ting so hard out there, and the own­ers of these com­pa­nies, and the greed — it’s just so big in today’s time. They don’t care. Peo­ple just don’t care. All they care about is money.

Mindy: Any final thoughts to share?

Raina: I’m going to give final thoughts to any­one who feels like they’re being treat­ed unfair­ly at work. They need to fight for them­selves. What­ev­er it takes.

Mindy Iss­er works in the labor move­ment and lives in Philadelphia.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH