LIMA — Frustration with the status quo at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center is complicating negotiations between the UAW and General Dynamics, which reached a tentative agreement in late October that was rejected by 67% of union members at General Dynamics facilities in Lima, Sterling Heights, Michigan, and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Eighty-eight percent of hourly workers in Lima voted down the proposed contract this past Sunday, sending the contract back to General Dynamics and UAW leaders.
Union members who spoke with The Lima News on Wednesday describe years of painful concessions made to keep the company profitable during years when federal contracts were scarce and layoffs were plentiful.
But now that the tank plant is booming, workers are asking General Dynamics for more.
“Everybody is together and willing to fight for what we’ve been giving up,” said Ronnie Perrine Jr., a weld inspector who has worked for the JSMC for 14 years. “We’re not asking for all the things we’ve given up in 14 years. But we’re sure not willing to keep losing when they’ve got government contracts coming in.
“They can’t think we’ll give up more when they’re bringing in more.”
Perrine said Local 2075 members were “insulted” by the contract, which offered a 3% raise for all workers in 2020 and lowered the number of years it would take new hires to reach the top of the pay scale from nine years to six.
But Perrine said workers whose wages have topped out haven’t seen a raise in nearly a decade. And a 2015 contract between the union and General Dynamics extended the pay progression period for new hires to nine years, a significant increase from previous years.
After the 2015 contract, Perrine said workers who were recalled from previous layoffs were making 70% of their original wage. The proposed contract rejected by union members would have restored those wages. But as Perrine explained, many of those workers have already reached the top of the pay scale, while the rest should top out within the next six to eight months.
Zach Laffin, a welder at the JSMC who has been laid off from the tank plant several times since his start in 2007, said it took three years after the latest recall for his wages to return to their previous rate.
“These new guys won’t even make it to six years before they’re laid off,” Laffin said.
Health insurance premiums for retirees are another concern. Perrine said premiums keep rising “to the point that some retirees are using their whole pension payment to pay for their insurance; nothing to live on.”
“We asked for a cap,” he said. “They won’t even speak of it. We didn’t even touch it.”
The UAW contract with General Dynamics expired Oct. 20, with a tentative agreement between the union and defense contractor reached two days later.
Negotiations between union leaders and General Dynamics will resume in Detroit next week, according to a union official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But workers could go on strike at any time as members have already held a strike authorization vote.
“The company is fully aware that we’re willing to strike,” Perrine said. “They don’t want President Trump tweeting them, asking where his product is. It’s not the car business. They don’t have to put a tank out in the front lot, hoping somebody buys it. These are already bought.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.