DETROIT—General Motors' United Auto Workers union members received their first strike paychecks of $250 during the week of Sept. 30.
The pay is less than half of new hires' weekly wages of about $680 and roughly a quarter of tenured workers' more than $1,000 per week. It comes out of the UAW's more than $700 million strike fund.
Nearly three weeks on the picket line and low pay and frustration over GM's temporary health insurance halt could make workers more critical of a potential tentative agreement. Still, multiple presidents at UAW locals said morale is high.
"It's not easy living on $250 a week, but they still believe in what they're doing," said Ralph Morris, president of UAW Local 163 Romulus Powertrain near Detroit. "It's early right now, but some are at a low pay and not making a living wage. But we have had donations" of food and other household items, Morris said.
The UAW's strike against GM is now in its 19th day. More than 46,000 hourly workers at GM plants have been on strike since Sept. 16 after the auto maker and the UAW failed to reach a new labor agreement before their previous contract expired. Thousands of other GM workers have been idled in Canada and Mexico, along with thousands more at GM's suppliers.
On the UAW side, "everybody was told to save and be prepared. There are locals that are working with food banks. The strain is starting to show on both sides," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
If the strike continues until Oct. 6, GM will have lost $660 million in profit, according to Anderson Economic Group, a firm in East Lansing, Mich.
UAW members and nonunion workers who have been laid off will have lost more than $412 million, according to the firm.
As the strike creeps closer to a month, most of the workers' household bills will come due. And making only a couple of hundred dollars a week, some workers are financially strained. UAW workers have received food and other donations from nearby businesses, which has lessened the pinch on their budgets, especially for temporary workers and new hires who make $15.78 and $17 per hour respectively.
Some workers on the picket line said they saved money, paid bills early or work second jobs to prepare for a strike.
"Some of them are struggling, but most of them prepared for the long haul," said Holli Murphy, president of Local 2209 in Fort Wayne, Ind. But she agreed that workers remain in good spirits.
Still, most would rather be working, said Mike Warchuck, president of Local 653 in Pontiac, Mich. "Obviously, they would like a fair settlement sooner rather than later," he said.
GM, in its initial contract proposal, offered workers an $8,000 signing bonus after they ratify the contract.
After weeks on the picket line with diminished pay, "Will the membership still take that? I'm not so sure," Warchuck said.
But a bonus that's uncharacteristically large could make workers suspicious, said Dziczek.
"Every time there is a big signing bonus, there is an outcry of people saying it's a bribe," she said. "The ratification on this is going to be really interesting, and it really depends a lot on what the substance of the agreement is."
Many workers also still have a "bitter taste in their mouth" after GM canceled health insurance Sept. 17, a day after the strike began, Warchuck said.
Workers continued to receive COBRA coverage paid for by the union's strike fund, but some workers on the picket lines said they didn't know if they were covered or how to sign up for temporary benefits through COBRA.
On Sept. 26, GM said it would fully restore health insurance coverage in response to "confusion" on the issue.
The initial call to halt coverage "hardened their spirits and made them more determined to get a fair and equitable agreement," Warchuck said.