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GM backpedals, saying it’ll pay for strikers’ health insurance

GM strike
A sign up Monday during a demonstration outside a General Motors facility in Langhorne, Pa.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

General Motors Co. now says striking workers will get company-paid health insurance, nine days after telling the union the coverage would be cut off.

The company said in an emailed letter to the United Auto Workers union, dated Wednesday, that it will keep benefits in place because of “significant confusion” among members.

The about-face came after workers howled and GM received withering criticism from politicians and on social media about cutting off the benefits.

“These irresponsible actions by General Motors are toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of our UAW families,” UAW Vice President Terry Dittes wrote in a letter Thursday to Scott Sandefur, GM’s vice president of labor relations. Dittes wrote that public sentiment would “see these actions of GM as a shameful act!”

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It wasn’t clear how the rhetoric or the healthcare spat would affect contract talks aimed at ending the strike by 49,000 workers that has shut down manufacturing for nearly two weeks at more than 30 GM plants across the nation.

“This is an attempt to do what’s right for our employees,” GM spokesman Dan Flores said.

It’s normal procedure in strikes for the cost of healthcare coverage to shift from the company, which is largely self-insured, to the union. The union website says the UAW will pick up the cost of the premiums. But the timing of when GM ends the healthcare coverage and when the union takes over is at issue. The UAW said the benefits lapsed, but it did not give a date.

Sandefur wrote in his letter that GM has chosen to work with healthcare providers to keep benefits fully in place for workers “so they have no disruption to their medical care, including vision, prescription and dental coverage.”

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Labor talks continued Thursday, the day after Dittes wrote a letter to members saying that committees had finished their work and the talks had moved to the main table of top bargainers, a sign of progress. Experts say the top bargainers would have to decide contentious economic issues such as wages, profit sharing, giving temporary workers a path to full-time jobs, products for plants GM wants to close and other issues that could take a lot of time.


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