UAW blasts GM for using worker health insurance as 'leverage'

The United Auto Workers blasted General Motors on Wednesday after the company said the union will have to pay for striking workers' health care on Tuesday.

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"It's unfortunate that General Motors is using current heath care benefits -- that over 47,000 GM workers and their families depend on as a way to leverage unfair concessions," Jason Kaplan, a representative for the UAW, told FOX Business in a statement on Wednesday. "This is a disappointing fork in the road for GM. Regardless, UAW will pick up the tab through our emergency strike fund."

"We understand strikes are difficult and disruptive to families," GM said in a statement. "While on strike, some benefits shift to being funded by the union’s strike fund, and in this case hourly employees are eligible for union-paid COBRA so their health care benefits can continue."

Union and company bargainers are making progress toward a new contract as a strike by United Auto Workers brought 33 General Motors factories to a halt continued into its third day.

Committees working on thorny issues such as wages, health insurance costs, use of temporary workers, and new work for plants slated to close worked until early evening Tuesday and are scheduled to resume bargaining early Wednesday.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said the talks were moving slowly but progressing.

UAW has a strike fund to support its members, but this will be a major drain. Terry Dittes, director of the UAW General Motors department, said that the union was looking into its legal options in a letter to union leaders on Tuesday.

FILE- In this Jan. 10, 2017, file photo, General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra speaks about the financial outlook of the automaker in Detroit. General Motors will announce a $1 billion investment in its factories that will create or keep around

The strike has officially outlasted GM autoworkers most recent nationwide strike in 2007, which lasted for two days.

If the strike ends soon, GM will be able to crank up production to make up for lost production time and mitigate some of the losses. But if it lasts more than a week, it will start to affect production in Canada and Mexico, putting more pressure on GM's inventory. If supplies dwindle, consumers may go to other brands, costing GM sales and market share.

Impacted workers are eligible for continued health insurance cover under COBRA, which is covered by UAW Strike and Defense Fund. The coverage extends to medical and prescription drugs, but excludes dental, vision, hearing, sick and accident.

"Our employees should be eligible for COBRA paid for by the UAW fund so that their healthcare benefits can continue," GM vice president of North America labor relations Scott Sandefur said in a letter to union leadership. "As a result, we believe that our employees, and your members, will not suffer any loss of healthcare coverage."

GM has previously said it spends about $1 billion a year on health care coverage for hourly workers, according to Reuters.

Autoworkers on strike will have to wait almost two weeks before receiving assistance pay of $250 a week.

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The union benefit, which breaks down to $50 per weekday, is available to workers on Day 15 of a strike, according to the United Auto Workers website. Those workers still qualify for specified health care benefits (medical and prescription drugs) available through the UAW Strike and Defense Fund.

FOX Business' inquiry to GM was not returned at the time of publication.

FOX Business' Thomas Barrabi and the Associated Press contributed to this report.