Courtesy of uaw.union/Instagram
The United Auto Workers strike against Detroit’s “Big 3” automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — is entering its fourth day, and the walkouts at three targeted plants are already affecting operations at other facilities.
The “stand up strike” strategy announced Wednesday involves members at targeted auto plants striking suddenly, while other members continue working under expired contracts. Members at other plants could be called to strike at a moment’s notice.
The goal of the stand up strike is a gradual escalation of actions across the three companies, in order to “keep them guessing on what happens next,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a video message to members on Wednesday.
The first workers to walk off the job Thursday night were Local 2250 at the GM Wentzville Assembly Center in Missouri; Local 12 at the Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio; and Local 900 at Ford Michigan Assembly Plant – Final Assembly and Paint in Wayne.
The first three walkouts amount to around 13,000 workers, out of the nearly 150,000 represented by UAW at the Big 3.
As a result, Ford told some 600 workers not to report to the body construction department at the Michigan Assembly Plant, because the parts they make need prompt painting, and the paint shop is on strike.
GM, meanwhile, warned that some 2,000 workers at its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kan., may soon be out of work due to a shortage of necessary parts from the struck Wentzville plant.
“I’m at peace with the decision to strike if we have to because I know that we’re on the right side in this battle. It’s a battle of the working class against the rich, the haves vs. the have-nots, the billionaire class against everybody else,” Fain said.
UAW is demanding 40% wage increases, more paid time off, and increased retiree pay, along with the restoration of benefits the workers once had, including defined benefit pensions, retiree medical benefits and cost of living adjustments.
The union is also demanding the end of lower-paid employment tiers, a concession the Teamsters recently won in their new contract with UPS, in a deal that was reached under the threat of a strike. UAW is also seeking the right to strike over plant closures, and the “working family protection program,” which would have automakers pay workers to do community service work if their company leaves town.
The union previously filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming GM and Stellantis were not bargaining in good faith. Both companies submitted counteroffers shortly before the contract deadline, which were rejected.
“After refusing to bargain in good faith for the past six weeks, only after having federal labor board charges filed against them, GM has come to the table with an insulting proposal that doesn’t come close to an equitable agreement for America’s autoworkers,” Fain said in a statement responding to GM’s offer.
A counteroffer from Stellantis was rejected by the union, which called it a “deeply unfair offer” from “by far the richest” of the three automakers.
“The wage proposal doesn’t make up for inflation, let alone make up for past losses,” the union said in a statement. “They have the money, they just don’t want Stellantis workers to get our fair share.”
Since the strike began, Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, released the details of their rejected counteroffer, in which they put a cumulative 21% wage increase on the table, with an immediate 10% raise.
According to UAW, GM, Ford and Stellantis made a combined $21 billion in profits in the first six months of 2023, after raking in $250 billion in North American profits over the last decade.
“So what have the Big 3 done with these staggering profits? Instead of rewarding the workers who spent long hours wrecking their bodies on the line to make these profits possible, the Big 3 have funneled billions into stock buyback schemes that artificially inflate the value of company shares,” Fain said in a video message to members last month.
“Record profits mean record contracts,” Fain said.
“Yes, we’re demanding double-digit pay raises,” the UAW said in a statement. “Big Three CEOs saw their pay spike 40 percent on average over the last four years. We know our members are worth the same and more.”
Over the weekend, President Joe Biden sent acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior adviser Gene Sperling to Detroit to assist with negotiations.
“Over generations, auto workers sacrificed so much to keep the industry alive and strong, especially through the economic crisis and the pandemic. Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create for an enterprise,” Biden said in a statement.
“Record corporate profits — which they have — should be shared by record contracts for the UAW,” Biden said.
“The challenge with the UAW strike is that the union and the Big Three automakers are so far apart in terms of what they consider to be a fair financial offer,” said employee and labor relations consultant Jason Greer, co-author of “Bias, Racism and the Brain.”
“Unfortunately it’s not just the striking employees who are off the job. Ford and General Motors recently announced that they will lay off non-striking employees due to a shortage of critical supplies that their facilities will not receive because of the strike,” Greer said.
“As the days go by this strike could be an economic juggernaut that will directly impact our economy,” Greer said. “If this strike hits beyond 10 days, then the financial impact to the state of Michigan and the national economy will be catastrophic.”
TMX contributed to this article.