DETROIT – General Motors’ worker Adarrey “Ace” Humphrey was blindsided Sunday. That’s when his life changed.
Humphrey, 27, has been a part-time temporary worker at GM’s Flint Assembly for the last three years. Sunday morning, he and about 250 of his co-workers crowded into UAW Local 598’s union hall. Most thought they were there for a routine meeting.
But when the local’s president stepped to the mic, the room listened in awed silence.
“He said, ‘As of tomorrow, you guys are full-time seniority employees of GM,’ ” said Humphrey. “There was a gasp in the room for a few seconds. Some of us thought he misspoke. Then, we had to say, ‘No, we heard him right!’ It was amazing.”
On Monday, GM made about 930 temporary workers permanent full-time employees at 30 of its 52 UAW-represented facilities in the United States. There are more to come in the months ahead, it said.
Union documents show that at Flint, where GM builds its heavy-duty pickups, 255 temps became permanent. At Lansing Delta Township, where GM builds its midsize SUVS, it hired 103 temps. At GM’s smaller plants such as Bedford Casting Operations in Indiana, 17 temps are now permanent.
Ford Motor Co. also moved 592 temps to permanent full-time on Monday, the UAW said, and will do more conversions of temps next month. But Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is still working to implement its temporary worker conversions, said the UAW.
The action is in keeping with the terms struck in the 2019 four-year UAW contract that GM union members ratified in October after a 40-day nationwide strike. In it, temporary workers who gain at least three years of service will convert to permanent status starting this year. Their new wages are $21 to $24 an hour. Ford and FCA union members ratified their new contracts with similar terms.
Still, thousands remain temporary workers at GM facilities and their chance of reaching permanent status is long and uncertain.
The UAW said it wants more temps permanently hired.
“UAW members sacrificed during our 40-day strike to create a defined path for temporary workers to seniority members in the 2019 National Agreement,” Terry Dittes, UAW vice president General Motors, told the Free Press in an email. “We remain in conversations with General Motors at several locations where we believe additional members should be moved to seniority status under the agreement.”
This move is a good start, said Dittes, but the union will be “vigilant to make sure that all hardworking temporary employees see their advancement to seniority status.”
About 50 temps at GM’s Marion Metal Center in Indiana were let go recently when the pickup program they were hired to work on ended. GM said it warned the workers in early December that they would be released because the production of previous-generation pickup parts ended the week of Dec. 8. GM warned the employees of the production timeline last January, and it has repeated that regularly, a GM spokesman said.
There are the newly hired temps, too, who have a long way to go to reach the three-year seniority mark. They also face contract pitfalls such as being laid off for too long, thereby derailing whatever seniority they’ve accrued.
Mat Bard is a temporary worker at Flint Assembly, where he’s worked since May 29. Bard is one of those temps who faces a long path to permanency. He said he will “hang in there,” but laments, “I don’t think anything is going to change real soon for me. My chances of being hired are pretty low.”
More to come
GM confirmed that it made more than 900 GM temporary hourly employees regular full-time employees and said there will be more hiring at more locations and additional opportunities to attain permanent full-time status later this year.
GM declined to provide a breakdown of how many temps were converted to permanent at each facility, but a person familiar with GM’s hiring process confirmed it did include Flint Assembly and Lansing Delta Township.
“These are great, experienced employees,” said David Barnas, GM spokesman. “Their transition to full-time regular status will help create more engaged and motivated teams in our plants, which is foundational to improving job satisfaction, health and safety, and the quality of our products for our customers.”
Temps make up about 7%-10% of GM’s workforce over the course of any given year. They accounted for about 4,100 workers at the end of 2018 and a similar figure at the end of 2019, a person familiar with the numbers said. Ford had about 3,400 temps at the end of 2018, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had 4,800, the UAW said.
Strike sticking point
The pathway to permanency was a sticking point in negotiations and drove the strike, too. In 2018, UAW leaders surveyed members about the critical issues to address in 2019 contract talks. Hiring temp workers as permanent employees topped the list, union members said.
“It’s a really big deal,” said John Ryan Bishop, a GM UAW worker at Flint Assembly who started as a temp in 2012 at GM’s Orion Assembly plant. “A lot of people who were hired in started as temps. They remember what it was like being a temp.”
Temps are union members, but they often work alongside permanent employees, doing the same work for half the pay and far fewer benefits. The UAW agreed to let automakers increase the use of temps a decade ago as the Detroit Three headed into the Great Recession.
A better life
But over the years many temps remained stuck in a temporary status, lacking any clear path to being hired permanently.
Take Humphrey. He started as a temp at Flint Assembly – where his father, Charles, has worked full-time for many years – in June 2016. GM laid off Humphrey around Thanksgiving of that year. He returned to his temporary job in January 2017 and has worked in that status ever since.
On Sept. 16, Humphrey joined his union brothers and sisters on the picket line in the hopes of getting a permanent job.
Now that he is permanent, Humphrey’s pay moved from $15 to $17 an hour as a temp to about $20, he said. A UAW document from the Lansing Delta plant said any temp making $17.53 an hour will move up to $21 an hour.
Permanent status also means Humphrey gets paid time off. He gets better health care that includes dental and vision.
“It opens up a door for me to think about going to the doctor or dentist, too, because I have that insurance now, so it doesn’t come out of my paycheck,” Humphrey said. “I can think about getting a house, too.”
Most important to Humphrey, he now gets tuition assistance. He wants to go to college and study electrical engineering, he said, adding he dreams of being an inventor one day.
“This helps us better our future, our careers and our families,” said Humphrey. “I almost shed a tear when I heard the news because you finally achieved that goal that you waited three years for and you showed up every day for.”