On Thursday’s Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – Leahy welcomed Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles to the show to speak on the recent UAW strike at General Motors in Spring Hill, Tennessee. GM CEO, Mary Barra abruptly cut healthcare benefits to their employees sparking an emotional demonstration that required local law enforcement to make arrests.
During the show, Ogles described the situation in Spring Hill which he and local UAW leader Mike Heron attempted to diffuse. Ogles encouraged people to be careful as they don’t want to have an arrest on their record.
Leahy: We are joined now on the line by our good friend Murray County mayor, Andy Ogles. Andy welcome to The Tennessee Star Report.
Ogles: Good morning. How are you?
Leahy: So you had some news happen down in Spring Hill yesterday. Tell us about the arrest of the UAW workers. And you had some very pointed comments for Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors.
Ogles: Well, you know obviously UAW is on strike. They’re negotiating well above the local level. That’s a separate issue. You have some folks that are very passionate. They’re blocking the midway. They had been asked by law enforcement to move. Law enforcement ultimately did what they had to do which was remove those folks from the road.
Leahy: Why did they not comply with that lawful order to move? It seemed to me that they were just a little bit too upset about everything. And just should have responded to the lawful order of the local police.
Ogles: Well you know tensions are high. Several plants have closed up North. A lot of those people have been relocated to Spring Hill, Tennessee. And specifically, the Lordstown, Ohio plant as I understand it was one of the plants that were supposed to be saved. It was not supposed to be closed.
They just made some infrastructure investments in that plant. The folks were told that their home’s would be safe. You don’t have to go through the process of planning to move or be relocated and then it was abruptly shuttered. Now obviously again, that’s above all of our pay grades. But if your in their shoes and you come to Tennessee and then General Motors cuts your health benefits without notice. That’s a pretty low blow in my book.
Keep in mind, the benefits were supposed to run to the end of the month. If you were working for a company and you quit your job, typically speaking your benefits run to the end of that month. So whether you quit on the fifth or the 25th you’ve got until the end of the month.
General Motors without warning or notice canceled their benefits on the 16th. Literally they had a chemo patient going for treatment who found out they didn’t have insurance to cover their chemo. That’s not how this should be done.
Leahy: Well, you called that a low blow and I think most people would agree with you. I’m not a labor attorney but it seems to me that there are rules and regulations regarding how labor unions deal with large corporations. And there’s a national group called the National Labor Relations Board that would address that. Will the complaint be coming? That seems to me that might be a violation of what those rules and regulations are.
Ogles: Yeah. I’m like you. I’m surprised that they did it. Even if they legally or technically could because of a clause or an agreement with the UAW. When you start canceling people’s health insurance, look I have kids and if I found myself without notice or ability to plan.
If my wife or myself were literally facing death or fighting cancer and my employer without notice cut my insurance, again, that’s wrong. We had a press conference yesterday that this was avoidable. Even if they were going to cut the benefits and say, “Hey you know what? We’re not going to pay for your benefits till the end of the month.
You’ve got until the 16th.” That would have allowed the workers or the union itself to pick up those premiums. It could have been seamless. And quite frankly, as I understand it, the cutting of insurance has never been done in the last 50 years. It was an unprecedented move in my opinion because it’s wrong!
Leahy: They’re trying to play hardball it looks like. What struck me about this Andy, and so you held a press conference with some of the UAW strikers get a little bit out of hand and they don’t follow police instructions so they’re arrested. But I found it was a very smart thing, and very indicative of sort of a more cooperative atmosphere shall we say between the local officials and local law enforcement and the UAW local leadership.
You held a press conference at four o’clock at the plant in Spring Hill along with Mike Heron the local UAW leader. You addressed the issues of law. He addressed some of the issues of the strike. Do I have it right that locally the local union leaders and the city and county government are kind of working cooperatively?
Ogles: Absolutely. In fact, Mike Heron and I, and again for your listeners who know who I am. I’m about as right-wing as it gets so for me to be working with the UAW probably might surprise a lot of folks. But there’s right and there’s wrong. And this was a wrong situation that occurred.
And I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or knucklehead, I’m going to stand up for what’s right. So Mike and I, we literally traveled around various gates of the plant with law enforcement. We literally had a police officer that was driving us around trying to de-escalate the situation.
Leahy: Calm it down. Common sense.
Ogles: I didn’t want to see anyone else in handcuffs. That doesn’t help the narrative.
Leahy: It doesn’t help anybody really. And but what it looks like to me is that here we are locally, the local UAW folks and local law enforcement working cooperatively. Then at the national level, they undertake an action that is probably questionable at best. And that ends up escalating tensions locally and you sort of understand why they’re a little bit upset about this.
Now they take it over the top. And so the actions of I think, as I read this, it seems to me that that the CEO of GM’s action that may or may not be a violation of labor rules and regulation to cut off healthcare instantaneously without informing the striking workers was a bit of a provocation that made the whole process unsafe for the general public. Do I have that right?
Ogles: Sure. And it was left to me and law enforcement to clean up their mistake. And again I think if you’re a UAW worker and you find yourself without insurance there is a process and you go down to the UAW hall and they get you signed up. But you know over the next couple of weeks everybody will have insurance.
It will be retroactive. But the problem is if you were to go to the doctor today and you haven’t been signed up yet they’re going to turn you away because you don’t have insurance. And again that’s a scary feeling for someone who’s facing a terminal illness.
There’s a mom, literally, you can’t make this stuff up that she’s pregnant and having complications with her pregnancy and she’s like, “Where do I go? The doctor can’t take me because I don’t have insurance.” These are people’s lives you’re dealing with. And I want to give hats off to law enforcement for keeping their cool. If law enforcement asks you to move you’ve got to move.
Leahy: You’ve got to move. Even if you’re mad at the CEO right?
Leahy: You gotta move.
Ogles: That’s why we were trying to diffuse the situation. I don’t want to see anyone in jail. And I look at this from an employers perspective. In Maury County, we have just under a 200 million dollar budget. We have a couple of 1000 employees.
I’ve got three open positions that are key positions in the county and I’ve got lots of applicants for those positions and if I see on their disturbing the peace or obstruction of justice charge that’s within the last six months to two years that resume is going to the bottom of the pile because I don’t want to hire someone that in my perception is a rebel rouser even if at the moment may have been justified.
This goes on your record. And so please be careful. Don’t get arrested. It doesn’t help the cause. And what ends up happening is, is these trucks that they were trying to block once law enforcement moves everybody out of the way, they get into the plant anyway.
Leahy: So it’s kind of…
Ogles: There was nothing accomplished.
Leahy: Yeah. There was kind of an unforced error on the part of the CEO of General Motors who without notice cancels healthcare. That’s an aggressively negative act I think on the part of the CEO of General Motors. But then you have some hotheads in the union who don’t comply with legal direction from authorized law enforcement. When they tell you to move say, “Yes sir.” And move right? (Chuckles) How hard is that?
Ogles: I understand tensions are high. And what I’ve tried to explain to some of the folks, especially here in the South we’re not accustomed to unions and strikes. It’s just not part of our culture. I said it sends the wrong image to the community.
I said everybody can understand the fear and anxiety caused by losing healthcare. That’s real. Not everyone can really fully understand or comprehend why you’re striking. I don’t know the details of what they’re negotiating for. That’s not why I got involved.
This healthcare thing is serious and it bothered me and you just do the right thing. Secondly was keeping people safe. You have these large trucks moving in very small spaces. You’ve got 50, 60 people crowding around and someone’s going to get injured. And again that doesn’t help anybody.
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Reportwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Andy Ogles” by Andy Ogles. Background Photo “UAW Strike” by Scott Dexter. CC BY-SA 2.0.