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Wentzville GM workers strongly approve contract proposal

Wentzville GM workers strongly approve contract proposal

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WENTZVILLE — On the 39th day of a strike of 49,000 General Motors workers, union members here voted to approve the company’s proposed contract.

“Wentzville’s being looked at by a nation of people getting ready for Friday’s vote,” said GM employee Jonathon Stafford on Thursday afternoon, before the voting results were made public. “It’s going to set a tone” for what happens Friday as other union chapters wrap up voting around the country.

The plant employees here voted to approve the proposed agreement, with 63.5% of production workers and 69.9% of skilled trades workers voting in favor, according to Darin Gilley, financial secretary for UAW Local 2250, which represents GM workers in Wentzville.

Local union officials had said that it was not obvious which way members would ultimately vote.

“It was not clear what the vote would be,” Gilley said. “We’ll just see how it fits into the overall scheme nationally. We’re just one of many, and the total vote will determine which way we go.”

Local union chapters must submit voting results to the UAW International by 3 p.m. St. Louis time on Friday.

“I don’t feel like the contract’s great,” said Lindsey Higgins, 31. But her family is getting to a point where it needs some financial relief, she said.

Higgins, who is married to Stafford, delivers parts at the GM plant in Wentzville. She transferred here from the shuttered plant in Lordstown, Ohio, in April.

Higgins was thinking about her children: a 10-month-old and a 2-year-old.

When the strike started, Higgins took out a loan to help stretch the $250, and later $275 that GM workers received each week during the strike. She had also gotten a side gig during the strike, buying pallets of items wholesale and reselling them on Facebook.

Stafford, 33, said he hopes that union members nationwide approve the contract.

“How much longer can we all stay out? Past Christmas?” Stafford asked.

Stafford said he started at GM in 2007 in Lansing, Michigan, and worked at five different plants in his first three years with the company.

In 2018 Stafford transferred to Spring Hill, Tennessee, which meant separating from his family. When that happened, Stafford said he lost hope and struggled with depression.

Stafford is currently on sick leave from the Spring Hill plant, which means he is staying with his wife and children in Hazelwood for now.

If the strike were to continue, Stafford and Higgins said they will move to Columbus, Ohio, to live with her sister.

Wentzville UAW chapter President Glenn Kage said workers will stay on the picket lines until the contract is ratified. Kage said some employees could be back at work as early as Friday night if it’s approved.

As part of the tentative agreement, GM has committed to invest $1.5 billion in the Wentzville assembly plant. The facility would make the “next generation” of GM’s midsize pickup trucks.

Under a package of subsidies and workforce development proposals signed in July by Gov. Mike Parson, GM would receive tax credits. Under the plan, GM would get up to $5 million each year over a 10-year period, as long as the company invests at least $750 million in the Wentzville assembly plant.

Despite the proposed investment in the Wentzville plant, several union members who transferred here from the GM plant in Lordstown said they had concerns with the tentative agreement.

For GM employee Iysha Fant-Newell, this strike is not about the money, it’s about stability.

“We deserve more,” said Fant-Newell, who works in stamping at the Wentzville plant.

Fant-Newell transferred here in August from Lordstown, after working at that plant for 19 years. She said her husband moved here too, but the rest of her family — including 10 grandchildren — is still back in Ohio.

Twon Ahart, 39, said he is unhappy with the agreement. After his experience with Lordstown, he would like greater job security.

Ahart started working at the Lordstown plant 11 years ago and transferred to Wentzville in April. That meant leaving behind his 12-year-old daughter, whom he coached in softball.

He is also the president of a nonprofit group in Ohio, City Kids Care.

“All this stuff is flourishing and all of a sudden I’m ripped away from it,” Ahart said. “I have to provide for my family.”

GM employee Jesse Wargowsky said some of the workers believe they may need to stay on strike a little longer to get more favorable terms.

“If you don’t get them now, you won’t get them next time, especially if there’s a downturn,” he said.

Wargowsky, a skilled trades worker in the paint department, said Thursday afternoon that he planned to vote “no.”

“I just think it’s time that the corporations in this country share a little bit of the wealth,” he said.

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