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Business News/ Auto News / UAW Urges Automakers to Cut Reliance on Temp Workers
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UAW Urges Automakers to Cut Reliance on Temp Workers


The Detroit car companies are fighting to preserve temporary ranks, seeing them as a critical fallback.

United Auto Workers members are striking at three facilities including this Ford plant in Wayne, Mich.Premium
United Auto Workers members are striking at three facilities including this Ford plant in Wayne, Mich.

WENTZVILLE, Mo.—The use of temporary factory workers at the Detroit car companies has long rankled the United Auto Workers union, which wants fewer of them and a faster path to full-time status.

Automakers say they need the flexibility that temp workers provide, especially as they manage a tricky and costly transition to electric vehicles and confront the ups and downs of factory production.

The issue is a key point of debate at the bargaining table as the UAW’s strike against General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler’s parent, Stellantis, enters its seventh day. Negotiations center on new contracts for about 146,000 U.S. auto-factory workers at the three car companies.

Union leaders have been vocal in their opposition to temporary staff, arguing that it creates inequality on the assembly line with one worker making a much higher wage than another for doing the same work.

Temps, who are also UAW members, start at about $16 an hour. Full-time line workers start at about $18 an hour and can progress to roughly $32 an hour over eight years.

Temps don’t have as many benefits or the job security of full-time positions, although General Motors and Ford are contractually required to convert them to permanent status after two years. At Stellantis, these workers are eligible for yearly increases, maxing out at $19.28 an hour, and convert when full-time jobs are available.

“My 15-year-old son makes $20 an hour installing septic systems with his grandpa," said Cheri Tucker, a temporary worker at the General Motors factory in Wentzville, Mo., near St. Louis, one of the three plants now on strike.

UAW President Shawn Fain has said he wants to get temps better pay and limit their use. He also wants to accelerate the timeline to full-time status to 90 days.

“We have massive amounts of temporary workers that are working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. That is not temporary work. That is full-time work," he said in an interview in August.

“But they have no promise to a future."

GM, Ford and Stellantis have offered to raise temp pay to about $20 an hour in the next-four-year contract and point to the tens of thousands of workers who have already converted to full-time status in recent years.

Executives argued that temps, also known as supplemental workers within the industry, provide a critical fallback that allows plants to run smoothly during new-model launches or times of the year when vacations and other absences peak.

Relying on these workers helps the car companies keep labor costs in check when they are already outspending nonunionized rivals on pay and benefits.

Anywhere from 5% to 10% of GM’s factory workforce is temporary, with the figure varying by week. At Stellantis, it is about 12%, while at Ford it is about 3%.

A conversion of current temporary workers to full-time would cost the Detroit Three an estimated $1.4 billion, not yet factoring in wage increases, according to equity analysts at Deutsche Bank. Stellantis would be affected the most because it has the highest percentage of these employees.

The clash over temps has been going on for some time now, but it is taking greater prominence in this round of talks because of inflation and the car companies’ need for more workplace flexibility in the shift to electric vehicles.

Unions have long pushed to better protect these workers and limit use, worried that these positions might siphon work from full-time employees.

“As wage and benefits packages have increased, that incentivizes companies to try and circumvent these high-paid workers," said Harry Katz, a professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University.

The Detroit car companies began to lean on temps more heavily around 2007, when the union agreed to make concessions to help the automakers survive financially, said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University.

At that time, temporary workers became a more systematic way to reduce labor costs and handle variations in staffing levels, such as those caused by worker absences, he said. Rather than working short stints, many temps are hired on for long-term assignments and can rotate into different jobs as needed.

Tucker, who works at the Wentzville plant, said she has been on the job for a little more than a year. Her husband is also a temporary worker, and while they appreciate the GM work, the temp pay leaves them living on a tight budget.

“By Thursday, we’re waiting for the next paycheck," she said, adding that many temps can’t afford to buy the trucks they make at the plant. The cheapest ones start at nearly $30,000.

Tenisha Hodges, a 45-year-old temp worker at Stellantis’s Jefferson North factory in Detroit, said she has been working with the company for more than three years as a metal finisher in the body shop. She started at $15.78 an hour and is now earning an hourly wage of $17.53.

Hodges said that she often works long hours, but doesn’t have the protections or benefits of her full-time counterparts, and that the wage isn’t much higher than what she could make elsewhere. For instance, the McDonald’s in her area has a similar starting pay, she said.

“I feel like a contractor. I come in. I do the same work," she said. Her factory isn’t on strike, which she said was fortunate because not all members can afford to live on the strike pay of $500 a week alone.

“It’s not that we’re asking for something astronomical," Hodges added. “We’re just asking for what is fair."

Sean McLain contributed to this article.

Write to Ben Kesling at and Christina Rogers at

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