Temps make up about 7%-10% of GM's workforce over the course of any given year. They accounted for about 4,100 workers at the end of 2018 and a similar figure at the end of 2019, a person familiar with the numbers said. Ford had about 3,400 temps at the end of 2018, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had 4,800, the UAW said.
Strike sticking point
The pathway to permanency was a sticking point in negotiations and drove the strike, too. In 2018, UAW leaders surveyed members about the critical issues to address in 2019 contract talks. Hiring temp workers as permanent employees topped the list, union members said.
"It's a really big deal," said John Ryan Bishop, a GM UAW worker at Flint Assembly who started as a temp in 2012 at GM's Orion Assembly plant. "A lot of people who were hired in started as temps. They remember what it was like being a temp."
Temps are union members, but they often work alongside permanent employees, doing the same work for half the pay and far fewer benefits. The UAW agreed to let automakers increase the use of temps a decade ago as the Detroit Three headed into the Great Recession.
A better life
But over the years many temps remained stuck in a temporary status, lacking any clear path to being hired permanently.
Take Humphrey. He started as a temp at Flint Assembly -- where his father, Charles, has worked full-time for many years -- in June 2016. GM laid off Humphrey around Thanksgiving of that year. He returned to his temporary job in January 2017 and has worked in that status ever since.
On Sept. 16, Humphrey joined his union brothers and sisters on the picket line in the hopes of getting a permanent job.
Now that he is permanent, Humphrey's pay moved from $15 to $17 an hour as a temp to about $20, he said. A UAW document from the Lansing Delta plant said any temp making $17.53 an hour will move up to $21 an hour.