'This Is Our One Chance': UAW Members Continue GM Strike | St. Louis Public Radio

'This Is Our One Chance': UAW Members Continue GM Strike

Sep 25, 2019

General Motors and the United Automobile Workers remain at the bargaining table as 49,000 union members strike nationwide.

About 4,500 workers are represented by UAW Local 2250 at the Wentzville assembly plant, where they produce Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize trucks and Chevy Express and GMC Savana work vans. 

Local President Glenn Kage said his members remain steadfast and believe the time for action is now.

“They recognize the fact that this is our one chance,” Kage said. “Our economy is strong. We’re still selling the vehicles that we manufacture. General Motors needs the vehicles that we manufacture. If we don’t fight back now, if we don’t draw a line in the sand now, when will we?”

UAW workers began the strike Sept. 16. The union has been pushing for better pay, job security, better treatment of temporary workers and maintaining their health insurance.

In a statement, a spokeswoman from the GM’s Wentzville assembly plant said negotiations are ongoing and “our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a stronger future for our employees and our business.”

Kage said GM wanted to increase the cost of workers’ health insurance by 15%, while providing a 2% raise.

“With a little bit of math, they found out that they were going to be going into the hole,” he said.

GM made the decision to cancel the workers' health insurance as a result of the strike, Kage said. Local 2250 was able to register 4,000 people in three days for its health care plan.

“It was an extraordinary effort, and we accomplished it,” Kage said.

Union workers are to start collecting strike benefits next week, but that financial relief is limited. 

UAW member Victoria Neealy has been a warehouse worker for five years at the Wentzville plant. She said the uncertainty of this strike has left her worried about the coming months.

“I have saved some money,” Neealy said. “But I am starting to feel the pressure just a little bit, because I’m not sure about next month or the month after. We don’t know how long the strike is going to go. And so I’m not sure if I have enough saved.”

Neealy, who is in her 50s, said GM has offered better pay and benefits than many other places, but she said the time and physical demands of the job take a toll.

“I look 60-something by my hands. I have literally broke myself down working for General Motors six days a week,” she said.

And she said it’s frustrating to watch temporary workers do the same work and receive lower wages and fewer benefits. Neealy said she’s worked alongside a temp worker who’s been there nearly as long as she has.

“I feel like they misuse and abuse this person,” she said. “He can’t get time off. He can’t spend time with his family, and it’s been going on for four years.”

The longer a strike draws out, the bigger the effect could be on the local economy, Kage said, pointing to those who make tires and sell vehicles.

“Eventually the trickle-down effect of the corporate-wide plant stoppage is going to affect all of those workers,” he said.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org