WENTZVILLE — General Motors workers finally left the picket line Friday, after union members nationwide voted to ratify a new four-year contract and end a 40-day strike that idled 49,000 employees.
GM workers voted 57.2% in favor of the pact, passing it with a vote of 23,389 to 17,501, the United Auto Workers said in a statement.
The ratification followed a critical vote Thursday by GM union workers in Wentzville. The facility, with about 4,300 workers, was one of the larger remaining plants to cast its ballots.
Wentzville’s GM workers voted to ratify the agreement by a majority of 64% of production workers and 70% of skilled trades workers.
“I know everybody’s not happy,” said Wentzville Mayor Nick Guccione. Still, he believes that workers at his city’s biggest employer made significant gains in some areas.
UAW members voted throughout the week on whether to ratify the proposed contract. Voting ended officially at 3 p.m. Central, and the UAW made the official announcement less than an hour later that the strike was over.
Since contract negotiations broke down, leading workers to go on strike late on Sept. 15, employees of the Wentzville plant have been picketing outside the facility’s five gates 24 hours a day, in four-hour shifts.
“It’s good to go back to work,” said Iysha Fant-Newell, who works in stamping at the GM plant in Wentzville. But like some other employees transferred here from idled plants, she was disappointed with the contract, and does not feel like she has stability yet.
Fant-Newell transferred here from GM’s plant in Lordstown, Ohio, a shuttered facility that did not get new products under the ratified contract. GM is in talks to sell the facility to an investor group.
“When my plant closed, it made me look at things totally differently,” Fant-Newell said. “Nobody is secure.”
Her husband moved to Missouri with her, but Fant-Newell had to leave behind the rest of her family, including four grown daughters and 10 grandchildren.
“To see them grow up on FaceTime — it’s not the same,” she said. “It really, truly changed our lives.”
Some employees of the Wentzville plant raised issues with the contract’s terms. Others argued that the contract is not perfect, but a longer strike would mean even greater financial hardship for families struggling to get by without their normal wages.
During the strike, workers were initially paid $250 per week from the union’s strike fund. The UAW upped the amount to $275 during the fourth week of the strike.
The contract calls for wage increases of 3% in the second and fourth year and 4% lump sum payments in the first and third years. Workers’ health care costs are unchanged.
“I’m definitely feeling a sense of relief that it’s over,” said Jonathon Stafford, a GM employee who is on sick leave from the company’s plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. During his leave, Stafford is living with his wife and their two children in Hazelwood. His wife works at the Wentzville plant.
Stafford is happy that the contract was ratified. If the strike had continued, Stafford and his wife said they would have had to move to Columbus, Ohio, to live with family.
“We believe that we won,” he said, but the family’s next battle is to find a way for Stafford and his wife to work at the same plant so their family can be permanently reunited.
Some workers were to be back on the job within hours of hearing the news.
At the Wentzville plant, voluntary shifts were available Friday for skilled trades workers and on Saturday for production workers. The plant will resume full production Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
Under the new contract, more than 900 temporary workers will become regular employees in January. After that, temporary workers would get permanent jobs through accrued time.
Union members will receive an $11,000 ratification bonus. Temporary workers will receive $4,500.
The company has also committed to invest $7.7 billion in at least five of its facilities, including $1.5 billion in the Wentzville assembly plant. Workers there will make the “next generation” of GM’s midsize pickup trucks.
But it allows GM to close three U.S. factories — Lordstown, Ohio; Warren, Michigan; and near Baltimore — a point of contention for many of the 42.8% of workers who voted no.
Workers from the closed factories campaigned against the contract, with several plants voting against it. But in the end, economic gains and GM’s investment pledge were too much to turn down.
“We delivered a contract that recognizes our employees for the important contributions they make to the overall success of the company, with a strong wage and benefit package and additional investment and job growth in our U.S. operations,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.
The strike was GM’s longest since 1998, when workers walked out for 54 days in Flint, Michigan. It has cost the company $2 billion.
Now that the UAW has resolved the contentious contract dispute with GM, the union announced that it will turn its attention to crafting a four-year labor contract to cover 55,000 of its members who work for Ford Motor Co.
Calling the GM contract a “win” or a “loss” for the union is a little too easy, said Matthew Bodie, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law. But the union was able to change some terms that had been disadvantageous to workers.
Mayor Guccione said he understands the difficulties workers can face during strikes, when the timeline and the road ahead are unclear.
“The unknown is what really frustrates people,” he said. “You don’t know what next week is going to bring.”
The Associated Press and Detroit Free Press contributed to this report.