'No giving up': Striking General Motors employees remain loyal to UAW

United Auto Workers members wave the union flag on a picket line outside a General Motors facility.
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FLINT (WJRT) (9/23/2019) - Striking General Motors employees are officially on United Auto Workers strike pay this week, which adds up to a fraction of their normal wages.

Union members get $50 a day while on strike, totaling $250 for the week. But workers aren't looking to supplement that pay with second jobs. They consider their job to be on the picket line.

"We're not going anywhere until they give us what they owe us," said Francesca McGee, who has been a member of UAW Local 651 for a year. "We'll be here until that day comes, however long it takes. There's no giving up."

A spokesman for UAW International said more than 48,000 eligible workers are signed up for strike duty. That's roughly 97 percent of GM union workers nationally.

McGee is fortunate because she's had a lot of friends and family supporting her during the strike. While that can't be said for other union members out on the picket lines, there is a common thread among all of them.

"My job is my passion, just like it would be for anyone else," McGee said. "GM has a long, durable history, not with only Flint but nationwide -- and for them to treat us like this is very uncalled for. But we were ready and we approved it and here we are."

ELGA Credit Union is offering programs this week to help striking workers deal with the financial burden of their lower income.

The programs are available for many financial situations. They last were used on a large scale during the federal government shutdown late last year.

"First and forement, we understand what they're going through and that this is a really tough time for them," said ELGA Executive Vice President Terry Katzur. "Incomes are certainly cut. They're going through a lot of stress. This puts stress on families. We're trying to do whatever we can to help alleviate that."

One of the programs ELGA offers: a special loan to skip a payment for workers. Basically, this would allow people to skip a payment on a auto loan or a personal loan if they're qualified.

ELGA also offers personal loans if workers are having trouble making financial ends meet. They will work with people on an individual basis and make sure they're taken care of.

But one thing the credit union urges all workers to do: Check with a bank or financial institution to see if there are any programs or assistance available before it's too late.

"They're nervous. They're stressed. It's more of the unknown," Katzur said. "Just like we don't really know how long this is going to go on, they don't either. And so they don't know if this is something short term they have to get through or it could go on for months and really impact them going forward."

As striking auto workers are worried about their finances, the economic impact of the strike is being felt beyond the industry. The Anderson Economic Group estimates that state is losing about $446,000 a day in income tax revenue.

That doesn't include cities like Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids that also collect a local income tax.

Striking workers cannot collect unemployment, but workers laid off from other companies like parts suppliers can, which means the state will be paying out more claims.

As striking and laid off workers live on tighter budgets they are cutting back on spending which means the state will collect less sales tax.

The strike won't just affect customers looking to buy a new car. It's also having an impact on people trying to get their GM cars and trucks fixed.

A red banner appeared on the GM Parts Direct website saying there is a delay receiving parts for all GM dealers across the United States. It goes on to say it may take longer to process orders.

The 1-week-old strike could force GM to idle more factories in Mexico and Canada. Those international factories are in need of the engines, transmissions and other components built in the U.S.

Already the United Auto Workers strike has forced GM to shut down two Canadian factories that make engines, older-model pickup trucks and two car models.