POST TIME: 14 October, 2019 00:00 00 AM
General Motors workers struggle with daily expenses as long strike continues
AFP, Detroit

General Motors workers struggle with daily expenses as long strike continues

Louis Rocha (C), president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 5960 eats lunch at their union hall on Friday in Lake Orion, Michigan. This union local represents workers at GM's Orion Assembly that is located in Orion Township, Michigan. As the General Motors strike grinds on, more auto suppliers and contractors are sending workers home, adding to the economic drag on Michigan and other US midwestern car manufacturing hubs." AFP photo

Betty Johnson, who has worked on General Motors assembly lines in Michigan and Tennessee for more than 34 years, said she knew a strike by the United Auto Workers union would mean personal sacrifice.

Nearly 50,000 GM hourly employees have been striking since September 16 in a walkout that has halted production at 31 factories and led to thousands of layoffs at auto supply companies.

"It's not easy," Johnson said. "I've got $45 left from my $250 in strike pay. I'm getting ready to hit up my 401K (retirement account) and borrow from myself," she said as she picketed outside GM's Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

GM employees who are boycotting receive only $250 week -- a fraction of their normal salaries -- though the

figure was increased slightly to

$275 a week by a UAW board vote on Saturday.

Johnson has already contacted the United Way, the local community organization that helps families in distress, for assistance in stretching out her utility bills and mortgage payments.

The union has urged members to contact a community information and referral services hotline and passed out cards with the corresponding phone number, Johnson said.

Credit unions supported by organized labor have also stepped forward to help some of the strikers.

"I don't see how you can feed five children on $250 a week," said Johnson, noting that many of her coworkers face even greater hardships, especially temporary employees.

The UAW says the typical GM worker at the top of the pay scale makes an average of $65,000 per year and employees with less than eight years seniority make even less.

Meanwhile the seven percent of GM workers classified as temporary employees make $16.50 per hour or about $33,000 per year.

 Rocha, president of UAW Local 5960 in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, who works at an assembly plant where GM builds electric vehicles, said community support has been helpful.

Local 5960 runs a strike kitchen that prepares food around the clock and gives away free meals thanks to donations from local businesses, churches, community groups and ordinary people.

Pizza has been delivered free of charge to the hall every day since the strike began on September 16, he added.

Rocha even recounted the story of a local veterinarian who offered to do surgery on a family's cat for free so that they didn't have to euthanize it.

Gerald Lang, Local 5960 vice president, said he doesn't believe GM ever anticipated the broad community support the UAW has gotten during the walkout.