PHOTO: Spring Hill General Motors workers strike on a bridge above U.S. 31 near the entrance to the General Motors plant. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
In what has become the single longest United Auto Workers (UAW) strike in over 20 years, workers from the Spring Hill General Motors (GM) plant continue to hold fast in their resolve in the hopes of reaching what they consider to be a fair agreement with GM corporate.
On Sept. 15, negotiations between UAW union members and GM fell through when both parties failed to reach an agreement on their regular four-year contract. While details on the specifics of the negotiations are sparse, UAW leadership generally cite job security, wages, healthcare and an over-reliance on temporary workers as main factors in the fallout.
It would be that same evening on Sept. 15 that roughly 48,000 UAW members nationwide went on strike.
The Strike’s first week
As this was the first national UAW strike since 2007, the move naturally gained nationwide attention. On the first day of the strike on Sept. 16, GM cut striking workers’ healthcare, a move that drew harsh criticisms the country over.
In Spring Hill, the cut in healthcare even saw self-described conservative Andy Ogles – mayor of Maury County – stand by striking workers in support. After thousands of anecdotes across the country painted pictures of workers and their families being denied medical treatments and services, GM eventually restored healthcare coverage to striking workers nine days later.
How the strike stands in Spring Hill nearly three weeks in
Despite having healthcare coverage restored, workers are still feeling the sting of lost income. Nevertheless, UAW Spring Hill Chairman Mike Herron said the resolve of those striking has never been stronger.
“There’s nobody that doesn’t feel the sacrifice and the pinch that’s going on,” Herron said. “They’re troopers, they’re doing what they need to do, and they’re not complaining. The people are committed, their enthusiasm is high, and everybody has resolve to make sure that we get a good agreement out of this process.”
Most workers at the Spring Hill plant generally make anywhere from $16 – $30 an hour. Assuming a 40-hour work week, these workers would pull in $640 – $1,200 a week before tax. During the strike, however, workers are reliant on their strike benefits, which Herron said equates to $250 a week – a far cry from their usual earnings.
Since the strike began, not a single vehicle has been produced at the Spring Hill plant. While Herron said that he hopes an agreement can be reached soon, he maintained that UAW workers were prepared to strike for as long as it takes until a “good agreement” could be reached.
“Hopefully, we’re going to have a successful process that will give us a good bargaining agreement, and hopefully soon because I know that our workforce would like to be building world-class cars and trucks instead of standing on the side of the road and peacefully demonstrating,” Herron said. “However, this cause is important enough that they’re going to do what it takes, and they’re going to stay out here as long as it takes to be able to go ahead and get a good agreement.”
While overwhelmed with the amount of support the strike has seen both in Spring Hill and beyond, Herron said it was the selflessness of some of the senior UAW members that really struck a chord with him.
“Not only is it heartwarming to see people coming together to protect the temporary workers, a lot of these workers are senior members that have a pension – they could walk out the door and retire today if they wanted to,” Herron said. “They’re here fighting for the younger people, and that’s the part that really warms my heart. A lot of them are here saying this is important to us that we leave a legacy to our workforce, to the workers here in Middle Tennessee, and throughout the nation. To me, it’s an act of not only sacrifice, but selflessness.”
“Just in general, I think if we all thought of the bigger picture and thought of others instead of just ourselves, I think the world would be a lot better place to live. And honestly, I’ve seen a lot of that throughout this process, and there’s been just a tremendous amount of support. It’s just been great.”