A spokesperson for General Motors said the company declined to comment until the union formally announced the results of the ratification process.
Workers at five of the largest plants voted the deal down in the past few days, because some workers at those plants were disappointed that it didn’t win more concessions for retirees, like reinstating pensions. It does force the automakers to increase their contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts.
The agreements mark the biggest compensation gains the union has won in decades, including a 25 percent raise in base wages over 4½ years.
Marc Robinson, a former General Motors economist and strategist, said he was surprised that so many UAW members voted against “such a rich contract,” but chalked it up to newly elected union president, Shawn Fain, publicly making very bold demands throughout the contract fight and setting high standards for what workers could win.
“[The union] probably got a better deal than usual because the companies weren’t used to Fain’s strategy, but it came with the risk of raising members’ expectations,” Robinson said. “The close vote reflects the extraordinarily high expectations.”
The contract comes after a long period when worker wages did not keep up with inflation, and after the union gave up some of its benefits around the time of the Great Recession, when the automakers were struggling to survive. The union managed to claw back many of those perks in the new deals, including restoring regular cost-of-living wage adjustments to offset inflation. It also eliminated wage tiers that had left newer workers on a lower pay scale.
Another reason for the challenging vote among GM workers is that it’s possible that leaders of UAW locals might not have effectively sold the deal to union members, Robinson said. The division could reflect the fact that “there is no unanimity within the UAW,” he said, noting that Fain only narrowly unseated his predecessor in a runoff election seven months ago.
The deal also appears to offer UAW workers some protection in the industry’s conversion to electric vehicles. Workers have worried that wages and job security will be lower in the industry’s new battery and EV factories. The GM agreement includes language wrapping some of these new factories into the union’s main contracts with automakers.