Difficulties filling shifts stemming from the coronavirus outbreak encouraged General Motors to place salaried volunteers on assembly lines in Wentzville, MO. This has not gone over well with the UAW, which suggests GM's decision to utilize non-union staff is in direct violation of its 2019 labor contract. The union claims white-collar workers have no business being on assembly lines and has issued a formal warning to the automaker.

Established in 1983 as a stamping and production facility, the site is currently responsible for General Motors' full-size vans (e.g. Chevrolet Express) and midsize trucks (Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon). The facility has room for 4,560 employees - most of whom are hourly. Those employees are split between the usual three shifts, with GM claiming difficulties in keeping them populated.

In July, the company said it might have to reduce the plant to just two shifts before pressure from outside convinced it otherwise. This led to the automaker seeking about 200 temporary workers and placing ads with local outlets.

Until those positions are filled, GM says it's had to ask non-union employees to help out around the factory - some of whom are being imported from facilities in other states. GM spokesman Jim Cain informed the Detroit Free Press that the number of salaried workers on the line in Wentzville varies by week. He claimed some weeks required very few helping hands while others required over two dozen temporary line workers, especially for the unpopular third shift.

The UAW isn't having it. "We strenuously object to GM doing this," said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the auto union. "The UAW believes it's in violation to the recent contract … Paragraph 215 of the contract forbids this."

From Freep:
Paragraph 215 in the contract reads in part: "Supervisory employees shall not be permitted to perform work on any hourly-rated job except in the following types of situations: (1) in emergencies arising out of unforeseen circumstances which call for immediate action to avoid interruption of operations; (2) in the instruction or training of employees, including demonstrating the proper method to accomplish the task assigned."

GM's Cain said he has not seen the grievance. He declined to comment further saying there is a process for evaluating and adjudicating such complaints. UAW's Rothenberg said the grievances are filed first at the local level against GM where the local union and the company try to resolve the issues. If not, they get pushed up to the UAW International to resolve it with company.
UAW Local 2250 actually called for General Motors to close the plant entirely last June, and most of the missing employees are gone due to the aforementioned "unforeseen circumstances which call for immediate action to avoid interruption of operations."

Cain said the automaker intended to continue using salaried and temporary employees to pad out Wentzville's ranks until absences declines.

a version of this article first appeared on TTAC