UAW leader at GM Arlington hopeful new contract will be ratified

Special to the Star-Telegram/Mar

The president of the union representing more than 4,200 employees at General Motors’ Arlington assembly plant said he’s optimistic a strike can be avoided even though a majority of North Texas autoworkers voted against a proposed contract.

“We had three meetings on Sunday. Some of [the workers] were still in their work clothes. We had people on hand to answer their questions,” said Johnny Pruitte, president of United Auto Workers Local 276. The union represents workers at the Arlington plant, which builds sport utility vehicles such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade.

Despite the rejection in Arlington and a handful of other plants, the four-year agreement was approved by UAW workers nationwide with 58 percent in favor. But it hasn’t yet been ratified because of concerns from skilled trades workers such as electricians and pipefitters. Only a fraction of the UAW’s 57,000 members are in the skilled trades, but the union’s constitution requires its leadership to hear their complaints before finalizing a collective bargaining agreement.

Pruitte said Wednesday he anticipates the issue will be resolved by the end of the week.

$1.4 billion Amount of General Motors’ investment in expansion and renovation of its Arlington Assembly Plant.

The proposed contract, which includes an $8,000 signing bonus and higher wages, was narrowly defeated by Arlington workers, 51 to 49 percent.

Pruitte said concerns about the contract in the Arlington plant varied. For example, some skilled trades workers aren’t happy that they may not be eligible for a $60,000 retirement incentive.

Also, Pruitte said opposition spread quickly on social media, which may have led some workers to oppose it based on an incomplete understanding of the provisions. “From what I saw, I felt great about the package of highlights we put out for a vote,” he said.

60 SUVs per hour

At GM’s Arlington plant, workers build an average of 56 to 60 SUVs per hour, working in three shifts. Union officials in recent weeks have reminded workers on the organization’s website to report to their shifts on time, and not assume that a strike is imminent.

In 2013, GM added a $200 million stamping plant in Arlington, making it possible to build large components such as doors, hoods and fenders on site. The company also expanded and retooled its body shop.

In all, GM Arlington is in the midst of a $1.4 billion expansion and renovation. The company bought 11.5 acres across Abram Street from the plant, including the old Cowboys Dancehall, where a parking lot with an overhead crosswalk will be installed.

Bonus and a raise

If the new contract is ratified, entry-level production workers currently paid between $15.78 and $19.28 per hour would see their wages increase to between $17 and $22.50 per hour and would eventually earn about $29 per hour.

Workers hired before 2007 would receive 3 percent raises in the first and third years of the contract and 4 percent lump-sum bonuses in the second and fourth years of the agreement.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives and The Associated Press.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson