Autoworkers union says it’s ready to strike
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain said the union and major Detroit automakers are still far apart on a new labor contract, threatening to strike select plants at each company, and possibly adding others.
While a work stoppage could still be avoided altogether, the UAW and General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV are approaching a strike deadline. The union’s current labor contract expires late Thursday night.
If the union and carmakers can’t come to an accord, the UAW will initially strike at a limited number of targeted locations, Fain said Wednesday. It will add more depending on how the bargaining progresses, and could potentially stop work completely at all three companies — a first-of-its-kind event. He characterized the move as one that would keep the carmakers “guessing,” giving the UAW more leverage.
“We are still very far apart on our key priorities,” Fain said in a Facebook Live broadcast aimed at the union’s 150,000 members. “We are prepared to strike these companies in a way they have never seen before.”
Fain said the final decision on which plants are targeted will be made shortly before the announcement to strike. That leaves automakers with limited means to plan for lost production. The UAW isn’t extending its current contract, so workers at plants that aren’t striking will work under expired agreements.
“The future of our industry is at stake,” Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley said in an emailed statement after Fain spoke. “Let’s do everything we can to avert a disastrous outcome.”
“We are here and ready to reach a deal,” Farley said. “We should be working creatively to solve hard problems rather than planning strikes and PR events.”
GM said it has presented the UAW with “strong offers,” including guaranteed pay increases and a shorter progression to the top wage bracket, and is continuing to negotiate in good faith, according to a spokesman for the carmaker.
Stellantis didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
The UAW and three automakers are still hashing out key economic issues, including pay raises, cost-of-living adjustments — called COLA — as well as pensions for newer workers and job security at select factories. Both the union and the companies have amended their offers as they try to reach a deal, but still aren’t in full agreement.
The union lowered its pay demand from 40%, which comes to 46% once raises are compounded, to 36%. Ford had offered to reinstate COLA for the first time in 14 years, but Fain said the formula offered wasn’t good enough. Still, the volleys show that both sides are budging from their opening offers.
Fain said the union proposed 90-day progression to the top pay rate and to restore pensions and retiree health care for all workers. He said the three companies agreed to cut the path to full pay to four years. All three rejected pension and retiree health proposals for workers hired after 2007.
On pay, Fain said Ford proposed 20% raises over four years, while GM offered 18% and Stellantis 17.5%.
He said all three companies proposed different COLA programs, but none were satisfactory. He added that all three companies are trying to cut profit sharing. He said Ford’s would have been a 21% smaller check for last year and GM’s would have cut the payment by 29%.
The union president also complained that Stellantis wants the right to close and sell 18 different facilities in the US.
“I’m at peace with the decision to strike if we have to because I know we’re on the right side of this battle,” Fain said. “It’s a battle of the working class against the rich.”