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The United Auto Workers union is ready to strike against Detroit’s “Big 3” automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — when their contracts expire Thursday night.
The “stand up strike” strategy announced Wednesday will involve workers 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 gradual escalation of strike 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.
“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.
“People accuse us, say this is class warfare. There’s been class warfare going on in this country for the last 40 years. The billionaire class has been taking everything, and leaving everybody else to fight for the scraps,” Fain said.
UAW, which represents nearly 150,000 auto workers at the Big 3, is demanding double-digit 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 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 to the union last week, 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.
“GM either doesn’t care or isn’t listening when we say we need economic justice at GM by 11:59pm on September 14th,” Fain said. “The clock is ticking. Stop wasting our members’ time. Tick tock.”
On Friday, 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.”
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.”
The union is also demanding the end of lower-paid employment tiers, a concession the Teamsters recently won in their new contract with UPS, 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.
Some fear any gains the workers make will simply be offset by companies raising prices, further fueling inflation.
“These types of labor disputes are to be expected as the result of the inflation we have seen. The issue is these wage increases will have to be passed on to the consumers in the form of higher prices,” said residential and commercial real estate sales expert Joshua Cadillac.
That “has the two-fold effect of, one, making the company’s products more expensive and thus less competitive with other products, and two, adding fuel to the fire of inflation,” Cadillac said.
“While wages have risen faster in the past few years than they have in the last 50, they have still lagged behind the loss in buying power. Workers are finding themselves making more but being able to buy less,” Cadillac said.
But others say now is the time to improve worker pay, rather than just CEO pay, thanks to a tight labor market.
“Workers across the country have experienced meager wage growth over the past decades despite steep increases in the cost of living, including housing, healthcare, and consumer goods. Workers have a right to be frustrated,” said Bradley Schurman, demographic strategist and author of “The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny.”
“At the same time, automaker profits are the highest since 2016, and executive compensation is extraordinarily high. For context, Mary Barra, the current CEO of GM, took in $28.97 million last year, while the average worker $80,034. That puts of Barra’s compensation to that of a median employee at 362-to-1,” Schurman said.
“Thanks to demographic change and a good economy, the labor market is tight, giving workers across the country a better position for salary negotiation,” Schurman said.
There is still a possibility that deals could be reached before midnight.
“The potential UAW strike is literally coming down to the 23rd hour. The hope is that the Big Three automakers and the UAW can come to terms on the financial elements of a deal,” said employee and labor relations consultant Jason Greer, co-author of “Bias, Racism and the Brain.”
“If this strike happens, and it hits beyond 10 days, then the financial impact to the state of Michigan and the national economy will be catastrophic. I think both parties recognize this and my belief is that they will come to a last minute agreement akin to what we saw with UPS and the Teamsters,” Greer said.
TMX contributed to this article.