Autoworkers' big checks good news for retailers

Posted on February 8, 2017

About 60,000 autoworkers in Michigan and 148,000 nationwide will have extra cash to spend this month and next as profit-sharing checks from Detroit’s Big Three arrive.

Workers at General Motors Co. will get the biggest profit-sharing — up to a record $12,000 for 52,000 eligible U.S. hourly workers, including about 21,000 in Michigan, the automaker said Tuesday. Last year, GM-UAW members received $11,000 in profit sharing-checks. Payments will be made Feb. 24.

Last month, Ford Motor Co. announced profit sharing of up to $9,000 for its more than 56,000 UAW members, just behind last year’s record of $9,300. Checks for Ford workers are scheduled to be cut March 9.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said it will pay its approximately 40,000 UAW workers an average of $5,000 in profit sharing on Feb. 17. That’s a bump up from last year’s $4,000.

The amount workers actually bank is significantly less after taxes.

The extra money in the pockets of workers is welcomed by retailers in Southeast Michigan and elsewhere, though many workers opt to put the cash into their savings accounts.

Dennis Ybarra, 63, of Genesee Township near Flint, said he plans to save a good amount of his profit-sharing from GM this year, but will take some for a vacation to a national park.

“I don’t know how anybody can’t be happy about it,” said Ybarra, who works at GM’s Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant. “That amount of money is not the norm. The only downside is the taxes that will come out. It’s a big chunk.”

William Fraser, 56, of Spring Hill, Tennessee, who works at GM’s assembly plant there, said he won’t get the full $12,000 from GM this year because he is on disability for an injury he suffered in September. But what he does get, he expects to use to pay bills.

“It’ll help all of us out tremendously,” he said.

Some union workers may opt to use the extra money to help pay for college educations for their children, to help buy vehicles or even help buy a home or get a nicer apartment, Fraser said.

West Marine in Harrison Township says it typically sees an uptick in business by late March, sometimes as people have income tax returns to spend. Manager Joel Garofalo said shoppers with disposable income – including their profit-sharing checks – often are interested in buying navigation electronics and speakers for their boats.

Art Van Furniture also sees a bump in business in February and March as people receive income tax returns and automaker bonuses. Diane Charles, vice president of corporate communications at Art Van, said the company has sales that are geared to boost the value of workers’ bonuses.

“We expect that families will be investing in their homes with either new furniture, new flooring (or) new bedding,” she said in an email.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who heads the GM department for the union, said GM’s union workers “deserve every penny” of the bonuses.

“Today’s performance bonus announcement of a maximum of $12,000 each rewards our members’ dedication and commitment to building some of the most popular and high-quality vehicles in the world,” she said in a statement.