For the first time in the United Auto Workers (UAW) union’s 88-year history, almost 13,000 auto workers have walked out on all three of U.S’ major car manufacturing plants.
The union launched a strike early Friday, September 15, 2023, as four-year contracts with the companies expired at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, September 14, 2023, and talks between the union and management failed to narrow differences on contract terms and pay.
UAW members began picketing at a General Motors (GM) assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit, and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.
The Ford plant that is on strike employs about 3,300 workers, and it makes Bronco SUVs and Ranger midsize pickup trucks.
The Toledo Jeep complex has about 5,800 workers and manufactures the Jeep Wrangler SUV and Gladiator pickup.
GM’s Wentzville plant has about 3,600 workers and makes the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickups, as well as the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express full-size vans.
The UAW has demanded a 36 percent pay rise over four years.
The carmakers have offered a pay bump of 17.5-20 percent, without other benefits and the changes to the wage system demanded by the union.
These offers were far lower than union demands of 36% wage increases over four years. GM and Ford offered 20% and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, offered 17.5%.
Meanwhile, not all of the 146,000 UAW members at company plants are walking picket lines.
UAW President, Shawn Fain disclosed that the union would not call a broader general strike for now, but all options would be on the table if new contracts are not agreed.
“They could double our raises and not raise car prices and still make millions of dollars in profits. We’re not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”Shawn Fain
In addition to general wage increases, the union is seeking restoration of cost-of-living pay raises, an end to varying tiers of wages for factory jobs, a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay, the restoration of traditional defined-benefit pensions for new hires who now receive only 401(k)-style retirement plans, pension increases for retirees and other items.
Starting in 2007, workers gave up cost-of-living raises and defined benefit pensions for new hires. Wage tiers were created as the UAW tried to help the companies avoid financial trouble ahead of and during the Great Recession.
Even so, only Ford avoided government-funded bankruptcy protection.
UAW Wants To Give The Companies Some Space
Marick Masters, a Business Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, noted that the union didn’t go after the companies’ big cash cows, which are full-size pickup trucks and big SUVs, and went more for plants that make vehicles with lower profit margins.
“They want to give the companies some space without putting them up against the wall,” Masters said.
“They’re not putting them right into the corner. You put an animal in the corner and it’s dangerous,”Masters added.
GM’s top manufacturing Executive, Gerald Johnson disclosed earlier that the UAW’s proposal would cost $100bn and would be “absolutely impossible to absorb.”
Ford stated that it had bargained in “good faith” to avoid the strike and would continue to work towards an agreement that “rewards our employees and protects Ford’s ability to invest in the future.”
Ford CEO, Farley said that if Ford had agreed to the union’s demands, it would have lost $15 billion during the last decade and gone bankrupt.
Jeff Schuster, head of automotive for the Global Data research firm, predicted that the strikes could last longer than previous work stoppages such as a 40-day strike against GM in 2019.