UAW 292 president Matt Collins has secured the position of president once again after running unopposed in last month’s election.
Collins, a graduate of Middle-Tennessee State with a degree in business, has been employed by GM since 2006 when he began working as an operator. In 2011, he was elected to his first term as president of UAW 292, and he has continued to serve the union since. This will be Collins’ fourth term as president.
For Collins, working at GM runs in the family. His father, uncle, and grandmother all retired from the manufacturer. Collins said that since many of his family worked at GM, he has seen the highs and lows of the plant but is remaining positive, as the plant is amid a lower point currently.
“We’re struggling. We’re really struggling,” Collins said. “My dad retired from GM, my uncle, my grandmother. And when they were there, there was 13,000 people. We’re down to 300 to 400 people in the whole plant, counting salaried and skilled trades. So we’re just trying to get some new work in there.”
In 2019, Collins served on the UAW committee for national negotiations, where the contract between the union and GM was rehashed. Having a seat at the table and a voice was an important part of keeping the Kokomo GM plant alive and running, Collins said.
“We don’t have time for the fighting and the bickering, and that’s not how we do it here anyway. We have a good relationship with the company here. There is no union versus management. We all want the same thing: to sustain, to come and have a good job and provide for our families and keep this place open. That’s my biggest goal.”
Because the company is in between model sets, meaning there is little work until new parts can be manufactured for the next round of GM cars, Collins said that the plant is struggling.
“There’s still small projects that we’re bidding on, and I think they look pretty good,” Collins said. “Where the lion’s share of what our future holds is in electric cars.”
Although COVID-19 hit manufacturers, GM got a bit of a leg up as it was involved in a partnership with Ventec to build ventilators used in hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. Collins said that the deal was struck shortly after he reached out to the CEO of GM, Mary Barra.
“So I reached out to Mary Barra the CEO and said, ‘Listen, we have a class-one clean room right here on campus. We can build ventilators.’ And she said, ‘Just hang tight.’ And by the end of that weekend, they had flown everyone in from Washington and Detroit from both companies to our site, and they decided to do it here. That was a good stroke of business because it helped the community. It helped the whole world. It’s a really cool opportunity.”
GM fulfilled its contract with Ventec in August, building 30,000 ventilators. Ventec is continuing to build ventilators on the GM campus in Kokomo.
With the contract fulfilled, Collins has begun looking toward the future for the company and work for the union. For him, the future for GM— and his union’s viability in Kokomo— is electric.
According to Collins, parts for electric cars are being kept in-house for GM because they are relatively new and are “being guarded,” which means more work for the plant in Kokomo. That, Collins said, could be a saving grace not just for the union, but for the whole plant. Collins said that if the Kokomo plant can stay open until the projected release date of multiple GM electric models in 2023, they will have a fighting chance to breathe life back into the plant.
“All we can do is just keep doing what we’re doing,” Collins said. “And if the small stuff comes up, if we can help be a value to GM, we’ll do it. We’ve shown over and over we do the best things with the best quality. It’s just a different environment now. I think we’re competitive. Our quality is benchmark in the industry, and we’re in the right place. If you draw a circle around our plant, were within 500 miles of any major manufacturer assembly plant. We just have to make it last. I want there to be a future here. I’d hate to let it go.”