Kokomo workers on picket line hopeful about tentative union deal with GM

GM negotiating deal with union

KOKOMO, Ind. (WISH) — General Motors (GM) employees remained on picket lines Wednesday as the company reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to end the 31-day strike.

Nearly 50,000 employees nationwide participated in the walkout beginning Sept. 15, including approximately 300 workers at the GM Components Holding plant in Kokomo.

Demands from union leaders include fair wages, affordable health care, increased job security and profit sharing.

GM and UAW representatives were unable to confirm details of the proposed four-year deal.

“For the people that are standing out there [protesting], it isn’t about the money,” said Mark Stephens, vice president of UAW Local 292 in Kokomo. “It’s about the jobs.”

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Top priorities for GM employees in Kokomo include job security and affordable health care, workers told News 8.

Glen Gamblin, a Kokomo-based operator that began working for GM in 2006, picketed Wednesday evening along State Road 931 beside other longtime employees.

“Whatever it takes, we’ll be here,” he said. “It don’t matter [if there’s] rain, snow, or sleet… I think our voices are being heard.”

The Components Holding plant where Gamblin works comprises three units — the Semiconductors business, the Thick Film Printing business and the Electronic Assembly business — and produces parts including semiconductors, engine and transmission control modules, crash sensing and diagnostics modules, pressure sensors, body computer modules and power electronics modules, according to the company.

Fewer products were delivered to the plant over the years, said Stephens, who started his career with GM in 1999.

Work slowed down and thousands of jobs were cut during his 20 years at the plant, he told News 8.

“The plant had a lot of talent that’s no longer here,” Stephens said. “We’ve jumped through all the hoops for GM and now this is our only choice. Because when jobs aren’t here, that hurts the whole community.”

Striking workers in Kokomo are unlikely to stimulate the local economy by eating at locally-owned restaurants, hiring babysitters and purchasing homes, he added.

Some families who had been in the process of purchasing a home when the walkout began moved into temporary housing or hotels, according to UAW officials.

Kokomo workers earned $250 a week during the strike, a roughly 50 percent wage cut for many plant employees.

Cheryl Jameson, a union leader coordinating the strike, said community members played a “tremendous” role in supporting workers and their families affected by the weekslong strike.

“The first thing that happened was we had water brought in by the tons,” she told News 8. “Social media has also been huge. If somebody needs something, all I have to do is post about it and a few hours later, people will drop it off. We were worried about families that have little kids, and how they were going to get diapers and formula.”

On Wednesday, stacks of canned food, bottled water, toiletries, baby supplies and other donations lined the wall of another labor union’s local headquarters on East Hoffer Street.

“[The strike] has brought not only our union together, but our unions — all different kinds of unions — in a brotherhood and sisterhood that we’ve not had before,” said Jameson.

Stephens agreed, adding the strike had created new bonds between union members that would heighten productivity when they returned to work.

“This is how we’ve always worked together in the factories to solve problems,” he explained. “Now we’re even closer because we stood out there [on the picket line] and froze together. We stood out there and sweated together.”

Union leaders on the UAW National GM Council will review the proposed tentative agreement. If council members vote to approve it, the contract will be shared with full union membership. 

The final agreement will not be ratified until members across the nation vote to approve it, according to UAW officials.