Marx21 interviews a veteran UAW member at a picket line in California
On Monday September 23 as the GM strike entered its second week, Marx21 members Kyle Chun and Wonil Kim went to visit the picket line at a GM parts distribution center employing 60 workers in Rancho Cucamonga, California. The picket was held by five workers of all ages who were in high spirits and determined to stay out until their demands are met. We spoke with Marvin, a GM worker and UAW veteran of 35 years about the strike’s progress.
KC: So how is bargaining going?
Marvin: Bargaining is going very slow. The union’s bargaining in good faith, but the company keeps making low-ball offers, offers that are frankly embarrassing. They insist on a 2% wage growth that doesn’t even keep up with inflation, whereas we used to get at least 3% on previous contracts. They offered to rehire workers at the Lordstown, Ohio plant at $17.50 an hour. Those folks used to be paid $24-28 an hour. That’s just insulting. Aside from dangling a $8,000 signing bonus, they aren’t budging on any of our key demands. I think this is turning into a long-term battle, much as I’d like it to be otherwise.
KC: What would you say a new contract should include at the minimum?
Marvin: We just want a fair deal for everyone. GM’s made $35 billion in profits since the end of the recession. We shouldn’t have to pay for our healthcare. We want a fair pension for retirees. Everybody should be paid the same: we all do the same work, no reason for newer workers to be treated unequally. We want job security. We are going to stay out here until those demands are met.
KC: Are people ready for a long-term strike? Is the strike holding strong?
Marvin: Yes. We old-timers are in it for the long haul. The longest strike I’ve seen lasted 67 days — that was in 1970 [which ended in victory for UAW – KC]. This is probably going to be the last contract for me, but I’m also doing it for the young ones. The younger workers used to take the benefits we get for granted. Now they are getting a life lesson on the importance of the union. Because nothing has ever been won without the union fighting for it. See how the company dropped them off healthcare just like that? That’s how much the company actually values its employees. The millennials are learning to fight for their rights. I call it on-the-job training. And they are standing strong.
KC: What about all the other plants across the country? Do you stay in touch with them?
Marvin: Yes we do. They are all solidly out.
KC: GM’s made the unusual move of dropping strikers from their healthcare coverage. How’s that affecting people?
Marvin: It’s not unusual for them to cut off healthcare during a strike. What’s unusual is that this time, they did it right from the start instead of waiting until the end of the month covered by the expiring contract. UAW has stepped in to provide coverage for about 90% of members. But that still doesn’t include dental and vision.
KC: What else do you think GM might do? Are you concerned they’ll try to send in replacement workers?
Marvin: Not for now. Managers are trying to do our work, without much success. There are about 50 to 60 trailers idling in there, still waiting to be loaded. GM’s got to pay each trucker $500 per day for each day they have to wait in excess of 3 days.
WK: Is the union making community outreach efforts? What kind of solidarity are you getting?
Marvin: Oh, we’ve been getting a lot of solidarity. The National Nurses United is helping to picket the distribution center at Fontana, the UAW locals at Ford and Chrysler are also offering support, even Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren walked our picket lines out there in the East… The truckers we are blocking and even the police are sympathetic to some extent. The public mood has definitely changed from the last time we were on strike. [As if to underscore the point, virtually every truck passing by the picketed gate honked in support, as well as a good many motorists – KC]
KC: How would you compare this strike to the one in 2007?
Marvin: Well we’ve already lasted longer, didn’t we? One difference is that the union’s tactics are less aggressive this time. We’re not throwing drivers off their trucks when they cross our pickets. Instead we block them for just 20 minutes, because if we hold them up any longer that’s against the law. We are playing it real nice and gentle.
KC: Do you think maybe you would get more aggressive going forward?
Marvin: I’ll tell you when things will get really aggressive: it’s if come next week, people don’t see their September paycheck in the mail. That’s when people are going to get really mad.
WK: How do you feel about the way your fight is being portrayed in the media?
Marvin: Some are saying we get overpaid, at $60 an hour. That’s not true. You can only get that figure if you include healthcare and other benefits, plus seniority. And healthcare is a real necessity. The jobs we do, building a car every 52 seconds, breakdown our bodies, and injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome build up over time. I’m lucky to have lasted 35 years on the job, but most can barely last 30 years.
KC: Thank you so much for your time
Kyle Chun and Wonil Kim