Before the early 1930's, employees at General Motors were making around $.50 per hour. The foreman had control of a person’s wage and job. The employees were paid twice each month. With the foreman's discretion and if you were lucky, a $20.00 bonus award may be given at each pay period. If you got along well with your foreman, or did him favor's, you most likely received a bonus, hence if you did not get along well with your foreman or if you were a union supporter chances were you didn't receive a bonus. The hours of work were controlled in the same manner. There was no call in pay. Employees would report to work at the start of their shift, only "when or if" work was available would you get to work. Some of our members would spend 40 hours at Oldsmobile with only 14 hours pay for that week. A person may work only 2 hours in a given day spending the remaining 6 hours waiting in the lunchroom for the chance that more work would be scheduled for that day.
Layoffs worked in the same way, not by seniority; instead management would decide whom and for how long would be laid off. There were few blacks in the plant and none were in management or skilled trade positions, most were assigned to custodial jobs or the more laborious jobs. Women's pay, hours allowed to work, and overtime were generally less then male employees. It wasn't until 1955 that women were put on the same seniority list as men. It wasn't until 1972 that the first woman was placed in a skilled trades position in Lansing.
The year was 1938; Leroy Sherman was President of Local 182. As union members continued to grow some of our Oldsmobile Unit Officers began forming their own group. Leroy Sherman, one of the unit officers opposed the direction of then President Oliver Starks. By February 1939, Leroy Sherman along with his followers, were granted a charter from the International UAW splitting Local 182 into two locals, hence giving birth to Local 652.
Local 652 soon took residence at 1120 S. Washington Ave; the upstairs hall was rented for $10.00 per month. Leroy Sherman who worked in the plant at the time, and even though he was president, he did not receive any pay for his first year of duty. Due to over crowded membership meetings, in the mid 1946 Local 652 moved around the corner to 109 South St.
By 1950 membership continued to grow and Local 652 needed an even larger hall. Ground was broken to build the first hall owned by the Local. It wasn't as big as originally planned, but it was on a parcel of land containing 15 lots purchased by the Local which would provide a great parking area.
In 1951 Local 652 ventured into a new business – Real Estate. They purchased a parcel of land and began building houses to sell to members only for a low cost. This turned out to be a poor investment because the contractors building the houses went broke leaving the debt to the Local.
In 1955, a fire had broken out in the new hall but fortunately there were just minor damages. As membership still growing plans were being made to build a new and bigger Local Union Hall. The recession that was hurting most of the country was not affecting our area as much.
The 1956 National Agreement came after a twelve-day strike, which didn't involve all GM plants. The main issues besides an increase in wages, was guaranteed employment. Construction on the new hall was still taking place and Amalgamated Local 724 had moved into the old building. Spaces were cramped but Locals shared the building until Local 652 moved into the new hall in March 1957.
Through the 1960’s and 70’s General Motor in Lansing hired more and more workers, making Local 652 one of the largest Locals in the country. Other than a few “low periods” the corporation prospered. During these times the UAW made tremendous gains in worker benefits. In 1979 GM broke ground for a new plant – The Delta Engine Plant located in Delta Township. Local 652 would also represent those workers.
In the Early 1980’s big changes were taking place in the auto industry and the vehicles were taking on a whole new look. The Local Bargaining Committee and Executive Board negotiated to bring a whole new product to Lansing…smaller front wheel drive cars. Up until this time Oldsmobiles were only built in Lansing factories. Now Pontiacs, and Buicks were also produced here.
In the late 1990’s, after a lot of negotiating with GM, it was announce we would get not one but two new plants, a stamping plant in Delta Township, and a new assembly plant in Lansing, the Lansing Grand River (LGR) plant. LGR would built the next generation of Cadillac, the CTS, SRX, and an all new STS. LGR was completed and production began in November 2002.
With the good news of the new work for Lansing came some bad news from the corporation. Not only would Lansing no longer make an Oldsmobile but also the brand would be discontinued. On April 29, 2004 the very last Oldsmobile ever produced rolled off the assembly line in Building 32. It was a sad day for everyone. No matter how many times they changed the name of our factories most everyone still referred to them by one word – OLDSMOBILE.
Not deterred by the loss of Oldsmobile, we keep going strong today with over 1,700 new jobs at LGR. We have had a lot of success at that plant winning a JD Power award for Quality in just the second year and our membership has built some great products that have resurrected the Cadillac brand.