On the last day of his motorcycle tour, Peters highlights UAW negotiations as possible strike looms ⋆

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) began the final day of his annual motorcycle tour of the state in Lansing, between two local branches of the union of United Automobile Workers (UAW). 

Peters’ visit to the union site on Thursday came in the midst of negotiations between the UAW and Big Three auto manufacturing companies in Detroit, a month before union contracts are set to expire. Peters spoke about the possibility of a UAW strike at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis plants and said that increases to worker pay and benefits are past due from the high-profiting corporations.

“This negotiation is going to mean a lot for the future of the country,” Peters said. 

Peters recalled his mother’s efforts to unionize her workplace as a nurse’s aid when he was a child and said that it gave him an appreciation for collective bargaining as he entered his political career.

Sen. Gary Peters speaks in Lansing on the last day of his annual statewide motorcycle tour. Peters emphasized the role of labor unions in building the American middle class, Aug. 17, 2023 | Lily Guiney

“Those union roots are in me,” Peters said. “Americans should realize that unions are not just about their members and not just about wages and benefits or collective bargaining. When we have strong unions in this country, we have a strong country, we have a strong middle class.” 

Retired General Motors employee Rudy Reyes, a UAW member of over 30 years, said he credits the union with his family’s security and success. 

“My son now is a partner with [global accounting firm] Price Waterhouse Cooper,” Reyes said. “Because I was able to send him to college.”

Reyes said he’s grateful for Peters’ solidarity with UAW during the latest set of negotiations and praised how Peters “supports everybody.”

“A lot of people at the top, get a lot of stuff, but they already have money,” Reyes said. “People at the bottom don’t have money, they need help. That’s why we’re all here, because of Gary Peters, this morning.” 

Peters said that the rapidly changing and growing auto industry should serve as a reminder of when times weren’t so good for the Big Three companies, and that union contracts should reflect the historical role of the UAW in bolstering corporate success. 

Sen. Gary Peters and his motorcycle group arrive at Local 652 UAW in Lansing on Aug. 17, 2023. Peters spoke about the importance of unions heading into contract negotiations with Big Three auto companies, Aug. 17, 2023 | Lily Guiney

“We all remember back in 2008-09 during the financial crisis, when General Motors was at the very edge of perhaps not being around…the company was teetering,” Peters said. “The union stepped up and said ‘We will negotiate a contract that allows us to not only survive, but to prosper.’”

“It was the UAW,” Peters said, “that helped save General Motors.” 

Now, in the first six months of 2023, the Big Three have brought in $21 billion in profits and are at the helm of the expanding electric vehicle (EV) industry. And, Peters said, it’s time for their CEOs to pay up. 

“General Motors is doing really well,” Peters said. “Chrysler, now Stellantis, is doing well. Ford Motor is doing really well. And it’s time that the workers and the UAW members that work in those plants are able to share in those good times, as well.”

A list of UAW demands encompassing pay raises, increased benefits and improved working conditions is currently under negotiation to avoid a possible strike, which the union will vote on next week. 

With only a month left to avoid a strike, Peters said that he’s hopeful both sides will come to an agreement that best serves workers as the auto industry continues to change.

“Hopefully a strike can be avoided,” Peters said. “No one wants to strike. But a strike will happen if an agreement has not been reached, and that continues to bring people to the bargaining table.”

Economic analysis by the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group has estimated that a 10-day strike from the 143,000 UAW employees of all three of the auto companies could result in a total loss of around $5 billion.

Sen. Gary Peters poses for photos with UAW union workers and retirees in Lansing on Aug. 17, 2023. Peters said that supporting union workers remains a top priority for him in the U.S. Senate. Aug. 17, 2023 | Lily Guiney

Peters acknowledged the potential economic fallout of a strike, but said he’s still holding out for a breakthrough as negotiations inch towards the deadline. 

“Normally, what happens in a lot of negotiations is that things tend not to get real serious until you get close to a deadline,” Peters said. “We saw that recently with the potential Teamster strike with UPS. Those negotiations went on for quite some time, but then there was a lot of movement just in the last few days leading up to the strike deadline. I hope that that will be the case here, as well.”

Former state Sen. Curtis Hertel is now a candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District. Former state Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) also is running. 

Hertel said that union activity in Michigan can and should serve as an example to the rest of the country. 

“When you look at this country, when you look at stagnant wages as they’ve been over the years, we need labor unions,” Hertel said. “And at this point, you look at the average wage of a worker and compare it to their CEO, and how the gap is six times what it was in 1950, we have a responsibility to give people a right to collectively bargain.”

authored by Lily Guiney
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