UAW Set for Targeted Strikes as Contract Deadline Nears

Union President Shawn Fain says during a Facebook Live appearance that the automakers' offers have fallen far short of union demands on wages as well as key issues such as pensions, cost-of-living adjustments and a shorter workweek.

Joseph Szczesny

September 14, 2023

5 Min Read
Blue Cross Blue Shield UAW strikers in Detroit screenshot
Auto workers could join UAW-represented Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan employees on picket lines.UAW

Chances of a strike against Detroit’s three automakers are climbing quickly as UAW President Shawn Fain says the union is preparing to stage what he describes as “Stand-Up Strikes” or selective walkouts at key plants that will choke off operations at each of the companies.

Fain (pictured, below left) is not saying yet which plants will be hit by the selective strikes, but he is telling union locals at all three companies to stand by for further action as the contract expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The union also has called for a major rally in downtown Detroit on Friday afternoon just a block away from Huntington Place, which is hosting the Detroit auto show.

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Shawn Fain screenshot_2

The UAW is still working to achieve a settlement with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis by the deadline. But Fain says during a Facebook Live appearance the company proposals, to date, have fallen woefully short of union demands on wages and tiers, as well as key issues such as pensions, cost-of-living adjustments and reducing the average work week to 32 hours.

“We’re very far apart on our key priorities,” Fain tells UAW members. The Detroit Three “could double our wages, not raise the price of vehicles, and still make billions in profits,” he says.

GM says in a statement: “We continue to bargain directly and in good faith with the UAW and have presented additional strong offers. We are making progress in key areas that we believe are most important to our represented team members.”

Ford CEO Jim Farley (pictured, below left) says the company offered to end the tiered wage structure, a claim disputed by Fain. Ford, GM and Stellantis all have offered double-digit raises over the four-year life of a new contract. The UAW has said all three companies’ offers fall short of its demands.

Additionally, each of the three companies are negotiating individual issues.

At GM, the union wants to ensure the pay of workers employed in the company’s Customer Care and Aftersales unit, which delivers parts to dealers and other outlets from warehouses across the U.S. GM’s warehouse workers are paid roughly $8 per hour less than full-time, full-seniority workers.

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Jim Farley - Ford (2)_1

Another bargaining issue at GM includes plants belonging to GM Holding, which was set up in 2009 when parts-supplier Delphi, now called Aptiv, emerged from bankruptcy. As part of the deal that ended Delphi’s bankruptcy, GM agreed to take back control of plants that fed critical components to its assembly plants, including one in Kokomo, IN; one in Wyoming, MI; and two others in Lockport and Rochester, NY.

Since they were once part of the Delphi bankruptcy, employees at the four plants had their wages reduced and the UAW failed in its bid to boost their pay during a 40-day strike against GM in 2019.

GM had gradually withdrawn work from the Kokomo plant, which had been a source of computer chips. The decision on Kokomo exposed GM to the chip shortages that have disrupted GM’s production over the past two years.

Fain says the pledge to eliminate tiers includes boosting GM Holding Workers’ wages.

A third group of workers are currently covered by a separate company, GM Subsystem LLC. Those employees work inside GM plants in Flint, Detroit, Lansing and Orion Township, MI, and are covered by Fain’s pledge to eliminate tiered-wage structures.

At Stellantis, the wages of warehouse workers employed by the automaker’s Mopar parts subsidiary also are an issue. The UAW wants to reverse a decision made during the 2009 bankruptcy of Chrysler, which became part of Stellantis in 2021, that reduced warehouse workers’ pay.

An even larger issue in the contract talks involves the fate of the Stellantis assembly plant in Belvidere, IL. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares says the company had no choice but to shutter the plant last winter as part of an effort to save money to pay for the transition to electric vehicles.

Fain notes during his Facebook discussion that plant closings such as the one at Belvidere “rip apart communities and families,” and he has said the UAW deserves the right to strike over such decisions. The union also wants a firm commitment from Stellantis that it will reopen Belvidere (pictured, below) with a brand-new product, preferably one of the EVs the automaker says are in the works.

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Stellantis Belvidere

Automakers have always resisted giving the UAW the right to veto any plant shutdown or sale.

Ford, which has its own distinctive labor relations practices, estimates its UAW-friendly policies mean it spends roughly $1 billion more for labor than either GM or Stellantis annually.

Nevertheless, concerns have grown within the UAW over Ford’s plans for a new assembly plant outside Memphis, TN. Sources say members of the union’s Ford Council were shocked to learn UAW members do not have the right to transfer to the plant and retain their current seniority.

The Tennessee factory is the first new assembly plant built by Ford in nearly 50 years and while it is not a joint venture like an adjacent battery plant, it would essentially be non-union. The issue of the union’s presence in the Tennessee plant is exacerbated by the general hostility toward the UAW by the state’s conservative political establishment.

All three companies are grappling with the UAW over the future of their battery plants, which now lie outside the union’s jurisdiction. Sources familiar with the UAW’s bargaining effort say the union cannot strike over issues related to those plants.

In July a group of Democratic U.S. senators led by Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote a letter to GM, Ford and Stellantis, demanding new battery plants be folded into each company’s master labor agreements. So far, none of the companies have responded to the senators.

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