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United Automobile Workers And General Motors Reach Tentative Agreement


General Motors and the United Auto Workers have reached a tentative deal that would end the union's month-long strike. But as Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports, union leaders now have to sell the deal to rank-and-file workers.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: There are a lot of reasons why it will be a good thing if the strike does come to an end. Brian Peterson of Anderson Economic Group says, every week, the financial costs are mounting.

BRIAN PETERSON: We're talking about, you know, in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion in lost profit for GM.

SAMILTON: Along with wage losses of $835 million for strikers and automotive supplier workers. Peterson says the strike's impact is also being felt by customers.

PETERSON: People not being able to either get their vehicle repaired or to be able to purchase a vehicle on a dealer lot that they were looking for.

SAMILTON: And for those on the picket line, the strike hasn't just hit them in the pocketbook. Jessie Kelly is with Local 160 in Warren, Mich. She says it's tough living on the $250 a week in strike pay and notes other hardships.

JESSIE KELLY: I would say emotionally tolling, physically tolling.

SAMILTON: Details of the tentative contract haven't been released yet, but the union and GM started out very far apart on most of the issues. GM says its labor costs are higher than any other car company in the U.S., and it needs to rein them in. GM's first offer would have required workers to pay a lot more than 4% of their health insurance premiums. Kelly says that would be a reason to walk away from the deal.

KELLY: If anything with the health insurance were to change, you know, that is just absolutely unacceptable.

SAMILTON: The two sides also began far apart on hourly wages and on GM's reliance on temporary workers, along with lower wages for recently hired employees. Kelly says this contract has to give her colleagues who are temps some hope of getting hired in permanently. And she says newly hired workers shouldn't have to wait eight years before making as much as she does. This has long been a sticking point with GM, which says it needs the flexibility on wages to stay competitive.

The other big conflict was over plant closings. Late last year, GM announced it was unallocating (ph) two of its plants in Michigan, one in Maryland and one in Ohio. Essentially, they've been shut down.

Kristin Dziczek is an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research.

KRISTIN DZICZEK: So that was a big sticking point about what would become of those four factories in the U.S. And we still don't know - because we haven't seen the tentative agreement - how they resolved that issue.

SAMILTON: But Dziczek says most of the strikers understand that any contract involves compromise.

DZICZEK: They've been out on the line so long and missed so many paychecks that I think that, you know, people will still find a way to ratify it.

SAMILTON: UAW leaders will present the tentative deal to local presidents and bargaining chiefs tomorrow. If they approve it, a vote from the rank and file is the next step. That could take a week or so. The union could choose to send workers back to their plants or keep them on the picket line.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER MOMMY SONG, "INSIDE OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.