PHOTO: Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles (left) stands next to General Motors employee Dennis Urbania (center) and Spring Hill UAW Chair Mike Herron (right) in support on Wednesday. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
The General Motors (GM) strike officially entered its third day on Wednesday, with thousands of workers employed at the Spring Hill GM plant continuing to stage protests all over the city. The resolve of many protesters had only grown stronger since the strike began after having learned that GM had axed their healthcare on Monday, many learning of the fact after being turned away for medical treatment unexpectedly.
While those on strike have said that the support from the community has been overwhelming, one supporter in particular drove home to protestors that the strike was no longer a partisan issue. That individual was self-described conservative Andy Ogles, mayor of Maury County.
More: Background on the strike
“On the 16th, General Motors canceled people’s healthcare – that’s an unprecedented move by the company, and it was wrong – plain and simple,” Ogles said. “And so my challenge to General Motors is to work with the UAW (United Automobile Workers labor union), work with the members, [and] get the benefits restored.”
Ogles explained that it would be one thing for GM to announce ahead of time that they would be cutting healthcare coverage for employees, but that it was an entirely different matter for the company to cut coverage without notice. It was something, Ogles argued, that could have serious consequences.
“Look, if you leave a job on the 2nd, your benefits are going to extend through the end of the month,” Ogles said. “Well, it’s the 18th – they did not extend through the end of the month, and that was wrong. They’ve got a member who’s pregnant who’s having pregnancy complications… you’re talking about a baby, and now she doesn’t have healthcare. I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, a Libertarian or a knucklehead – that’s wrong.”
Standing alongside protesters just off of U.S. 31, Ogles said he had learned of three GM workers who had been turned away for chemotherapy treatment, as well as one individual – Dennis Urbania – who is on the list for multiple organ transplants.
Urbania, who has worked for GM for nearly 20 years, said that in addition to being on the waiting list for organ transplants, he is also prescribed medication that costs $9,000 a month. Without healthcare coverage, Urabania fears that that medication will be out of reach.
“I had a heart transplant six years ago – GM picked up everything, no questions asked,” Urbania said. “Then they went into negotiations and we lost our benefits. Two of my prescriptions are $9,000 a month, cash. Two anti-rejection medications, and that’s just [a] 30-day supply. When all this stuff hits you, you’re scared, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Urbania said that he had called Vanderbilt Medical Center to notify them that he had lost his healthcare coverage, and that he could bring his medical bills to UAW leadership. Urbania said that Vanderbilt staff told him “they don’t do union,” and that he would need to find other means to cover his expenses.
“I just filled up two weeks ago, so I’m good for another two weeks,” Urbania said. “If we don’t get my catastrophic insurance straightened out, then what do I do, stop taking? Do I go into rejection then? They don’t think of all the people that have cancer, all the people like me that are waiting for organs. Whatever happened to the old saying, ‘GM family first?’ They threw that out the door.”
Mike Herron, chairman of the Spring Hill chapter of the UAW, said that the decision to cut healthcare coverage for employees came as a surprise to everyone, and that GM didn’t formally announce the decision until a day after it was done.
“We had people that were actually in the middle of medical procedures that were told, ‘you have no healthcare,’” Herron said. “We had a team member who had a daughter who was in intensive care up in Vanderbilt. How I found out that our members had no healthcare was when they started calling me up and saying, ‘I’ve got chemotherapy tomorrow morning, what do I do?’ That’s just not the way to find out that you have no healthcare. To me it’s callous, and it absolutely is not the way to do business.”
Despite the hardships, Herron said that spirits were high among his fellow workers. Herron also said he was impressed with the amount of support they had received from the community at large, with drivers honking in support every few seconds as he stood alongside his fellow GM employees on U.S. 31.
“The workers at this plant have done a great job, they’ve been outstanding, and I think that part of the reason that we’re getting the tremendous support from the community has been the fact that the community understands what we’re doing – you can hear by the number of people that are honking their horn as they go by,” Herron said. “The businesses in this area have been second to none – we’ve had 100 percent support from the businesses in this area. I couldn’t ask for any better help from our community or our businesses that are in this community.”
This strike is the first UAW strike since 2007, and has already exceeded that one in length by a single day as of Wednesday. General Motors said in a statement on Monday that negotiations are continuing. As negotiations are mostly kept confidential, specifics of the talks are unknown, although generally, UAW members have stated they are striking for more affordable healthcare, better wages, more job security, and a path to permanency for temporary workers.
“We’re going to be out here as long as it takes,” Herron said. “Our workers are committed to staying the course as long as it takes to be able to get a good agreement for our workers.”