Flint Truck Assembly is the only standing reminder of General Motors’ formerly impressive commitment to Genesee County, Michigan. Other representations include a myriad of crumbling factories that were closed decades ago and the area’s preponderance of vintage, high-mileage Buicks retained out of utility after the employment situation turned sour. Saying that the region has fallen upon hard times would be a grotesque understatement.
But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t still automotive jobs to be had. Despite GM reducing its Flint workforce from roughly 80,000 in the mid-1970s to fewer than 10,000 in 2010, the truck plant is still operational and reportedly looking for 450 temp workers to help fill in scheduling gaps for the 5,100 union-represented staffers it currently employs. Unfortunately, it’s been having trouble finding enough bodies, though the UAW has a solution. It believes that General Motors should stop drug testing, especially now that Michigan has legalized recreational marijuana use.
“When you have a line of people waiting for a job, then it’s OK to test [for marijuana]. But, if you don’t have enough candidates, testing for marijuana might turn people off from applying,” Eric Welter, the UAW Local 598 Shop Chairman, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press.
He’s worried that younger applicants probably won’t bother to apply at places where they’ll be drug tested, adding that GM is needlessly handicapping itself by using hair-sample tests that would come back as positive for pot use even if someone had consumed marijuana several weeks prior. But the larger issue is that smoking weed is becoming normalized to the same degree as alcohol consumption in increasingly more states, with 16 having legalized it totally. Others have actively decriminalized its possession for medical purposes or lightened punishment for its possession.
While General Motors is also seeking several hundred temporary employees for its Fort Wayne Assembly plant in Indiana, where recreational THC use remains illegal, it confessed that it’s considering changing its drug-testing rules. But it doesn’t see that as the core problem. GM seems to think it’s having difficulties reaching the right people and has been trying to make people aware that it’s hiring by ensuring recruiters appear at employment fairs and remaining active online.
Welter thinks finances might also be a contributing factor and recommended that the automaker start paying more. The Detroit Free Press estimated that the average GM hire makes about $16.60 an hour with benefits kicking in within the first six months. Those that last for two years can also petition the company to become a full-time employee. But the UAW has stated that most new hires won’t last that long.
“You have to start treating people right, improving your compensation and doing something different to attract employees because you’re competing with every major employer in the area,” he said. “Nobody has workers.”
That’s true. Staffing agencies have suggested that it’s become increasingly difficult to find people willing to work, despite pandemic restrictions ending and job openings becoming more common. GM has only been able to find 22 to 25 new people a week for Flint, according to Welter, and many end up needing to be replaced after a short stint on the line. Though the biggest issue for most businesses is finding seriously interested applicants.
“[People] are telling us they’re making an average of $16.05 an hour on unemployment, so why would they work for anything less than that? I’ve been doing this for 29 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gail Smith, the staffing manager at Snelling Staffing in Roseville, Michigan, explained.
Things have gone better in Indiana, though not by much. The automaker held a job fair for the Fort Wayne Assembly plant last month and only managed to get 60 people. UAW Local 2209 Shop Chairman Rich Letourneau said that would likely be insufficient in keeping the facility operating smoothly.
“We’re looking to hire temps like crazy, we just can’t get them,” he told the paper. “Nobody wants to come to work here.”
LeTourneau agreed with Welter by also hinting that GM could tamp down its drug testing policies. Though they seem to be only interested in the rules pertaining to marijuana, suggesting that it “doesn’t create the problems that opioids, cocaine and other drugs do.”