More than 23,000 union members voted to approve the deal, about 57 percent of the 40,000 who participated.
One of those was Martin Tutwiler, 42, a GM employee in Warren, Mich., who described the deal as both a win and a compromise.
“Every contract you’re going to have your issues,” Tutwiler said. “You’re not going to get everything you want, but you look at it as a whole and see if you can live with it.”
Workers could be back at factories by Saturday. Picket lines, which have been staffed around the clock by workers at GM plants from West Virginia to Texas for the nearly six weeks since the strike began Sept. 16, will end.
Employees said they wanted a more equitable contract as GM reaped near-record profits while shutting plants in the United States. Many said the company’s growing use of temporary workers, including many who have worked for years alongside permanent employees for significantly less pay and fewer benefits, was a motivation for the stoppage. Workers also pointed to the wage system that GM instituted after the recession, which required a lengthy period — eight years — for workers to “grow in” to full hourly pay of about $32 an hour or less.
“GM is proud to provide good-paying jobs to tens of thousands of employees in America and to grow our substantial investment in the U.S.," company CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.
Workers described a lingering sense that the company, which has enjoyed near-record profits in recent years, was not paying its fair share to workers, whose inflation-adjusted pay has declined over the last twenty years while executive compensation, like the $22 million package given to Barra, had ballooned.
“The contract made significant gains for GM workers, including temps, and the UAW can legitimately call it a hard-fought victory,” said Joseph A. McCartin, a labor scholar at Georgetown University. “That it lasted 40 days and cost GM an estimated $2 billion showed how hard a fight it was. But the fact that there was some doubt over whether it would be ratified, that it wasn’t ratified in every factory, and was narrowly ratified in others, indicates that the issues raised in this fight haven’t been permanently settled.”
Tutwiler said he hoped that the fight would inspire other workers pushing for change around the country. The action came amid a surge in the number of workers participating in strikes. In 2018, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, nearly 500,000 walked off their jobs, the highest number since 1986, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Though the number of unionized workers has been falling for decades, the strikes have given unions a sense of momentum amid a larger national discussion about pay and fairness. Other unions, as well as more informal groups of organized workers, say they are paying attention.
Last week, 25,000 teachers in Chicago began a strike that has canceled classes in the country’s third-largest public school district. Some union organizers said they had been watching the GM situation closely.
The length of the UAW strike — the longest at GM since 1973 — exacted a cost on the company, the workers who have forgone regular paychecks, and the related businesses, from the Midwest into Canada and Mexico, that experienced layoffs.
The auto giant has lost more than $1 billion in earnings, while workers have forfeited $835 million in wages, though the signing bonus will wipe out the lost earnings for most, estimated the Anderson Economic Group, a consulting firm based in East Lansing, Mich.
“I’m ready to go back to work,” said Vanessa Banks, president of UAW Local 1590, which represents GM workers at a plant in Martinsburg, W.Va.