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Americans bailed out GM when it was desperate. Now it should take care of its workers.

Nearly 50,000 auto workers are striking for better pay. This matters.

Americans bailed out GM when it was desperate. Now it should take care of its workers.
Governor Grethcen Whitmer / Twitter

In 2009, the U.S. government paid $50 billion to bail out Detroit-based automaker General Motors. In the end, the government would end up losing $11.2 billion on the deal.

Government efforts saved 1.5 million jobs in the United States and a sizable portion of an industry that helped define America in the twentieth century.

As part of the auto industry's upheaval in the wake of the Great Recession, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) made sacrifices in contracts to help put the company on a solid footing after the government bailout.

In 2008, union members agreed to pay new hires on a cheaper pay scale with fewer benefits.

The union also made concessions in the labor agreements of 2007, 2011, and 2015.

GM has posted over $70 billion in profits since its IPO in November 2010.

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Over 46,000 UAW workers at 55 facilities across the United States went on strike on Monday, September 16, to fight for wage increases, wage protection for new hires, profit sharing, health care, and prescription drug benefits.

Terry Dittes, vice president of the union's General Motors Department, says that GM waited to the last minute to avoid a strike by making a proposal just two hours before the strike was scheduled to begin.

"We are disappointed that the company waited until just two hours before the contract expired to make what we regard as its first serious offer," Dittes wrote. "Had we received this proposal earlier in the process, it may have been possible to reach a tentative agreement and avoid a strike."

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UAW workers are on strike to reclaim the benefits they sacrificed for the company over the past decade.

"Ultimately, we're just trying to get back what we've lost during the last couple of concessionary contracts," Celso Duque, a 22-year GM employee, told Detroit News. "We're trying to secure our future for the younger generations, trying to make sure our retirees still have benefits and that I'm able to retire once I get to that age."

The UAW has received the support of prominent Democratic lawmakers.

Unless a contract is agreed to swiftly, the labor stoppage will hurt both GM and UAW workers financially. Shutting down American production costs GM $400 million a day. UAW works will only receive $250 a week in strike wages.

Currently, the UAW holds $850 million in strike wages.

The UAW's leadership believes it has taken a stance not just for its workers but those across the country as well.

"We are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people of this nation," Dittes said. "Going into the bargaining season, our members have been very clear of what they will and will not accept in this contract."

Over the past decade, the workers of the UAW and taxpayers of the United States have made sacrifices so that GM can stay afloat. Isn't it time it returned the favor by taking care of its workers?

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