This week, United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership is meeting with skilled trades workers — the electricians, millwrights, pipefitters and diemakers — across General Motors facilities to identify issues that caused them to vote against a new labor contract with General Motors, thereby delaying the ratification of the 2015 GM-UAW labor agreement. Initially believed to be two major issues, the problems appear to span the following five topics:
- GM continues to push for cross-training skilled trades workers while not requiring certifications. For instance, an electrician can do the job of a millwright or repair a boiler without necessarily having the proper certification.
- GM pledges to train up to 400 new skilled apprentices, though many skilled trades workers bring up a similar promise made by the automaker in 2011 that was not fulfilled.
- In the face of the promise to train new apprentices, many skilled trades people are currently working on production lines, though their skills are needed elsewhere.
- GM sometimes relies on contractor work, which ends up being more expensive, performed slower, and with inferior quality compared to an in-house skilled trades person. “What ends up happening is the contractor gets the job partially done, but hits an obstacle because of confusion in engineering management’s drawings,” Brian Cooper, an electrician at GM’s Flint Metal Center, told USA Today. “That leads to changes and the contractor using more people and taking longer, all of which he bills for. In the end, it costs more than if we had done it in-house.” Cooper adds: “You don’t have to be an MBA to understand where they’re going with this. They are trying to turn all the specialty mechanical tradesmen into general handymen.”
- GM’s skilled workforce is aging and many workers have stated that they would have taken the opportunity to retire had they been offered the $60,000 retirement incentive offered to production workers. More than half of GM’s 8,500 skilled trades workers are eligible to retire.
Though UAW’s 52,700 GM members approved the new labor deal by a 58-42 percent margin, almost 60 percent of skilled trades voted against it.