Protesting what it calls unsatisfactory progress in contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers, the United Auto Workers strike is expanding to 38 parts distribution warehouses in 20 states across the U.S. belonging to General Motors and Stellantis.
“This will expand our strike nationwide,” says UAW President Shawn Fain during a Facebook Live appearance Friday. Ford was spared in the expanded strike as Fain says company and union negotiators have made serious progress during the bargaining this week even though no tentative deal has been reached.
“Both GM and Stellantis are going to need to make some serious progress,” says Fain.
UAW members will remain on strike at Ford’s assembly plant in Wayne, MI, where some 3,600 blue-collar workers walked off the job Sept. 15. Also remaining on strike are 5,800 workers at the Stellantis Jeep complex in Toledo, OH, and 3,800 workers at the GM assembly plants in Wentzville, MO. Workers are receiving strike pay of $500 a week.
GM has temporarily laid off about 2,000 workers at its assembly plant in Fairfax, KS, while the other two automakers have temporarily furloughed employees but on a smaller scale.
The targeted strikes will strain both companies’ ability to deliver the parts required to service customers' vehicles at a time when more and more consumers are depending on the purchase of used vehicles and the repairs to the ones they might already own.
Additionally, the UAW appears to have driven a serious wedge between Detroit’s automakers as Ford, according to Fain, has agreed to give the union the right to strike over proposed plant closings, which is something both GM and Stellantis – and its predecessors – have resisted since the 1980s.
‘Practice Picket’ at Stellantis’ North American HQ
As the UAW and the Detroit Three automakers continue negotiating, one of the issues being raised is the future of the campus around the Stellantis headquarters and technical and engineering center in Detroit’s northern suburbs.
Concerns over the fate or future of the Auburn Hills campus, which is the anchor for the union’s salaried bargaining unit at Stellantis, brought out several hundred pickets this week for a “practice” picket and rally in on the edge of the company’s property.
“It’s not so much about what’s in the contract,” says a UAW member named Mike, who asked that his last name be withheld. “It’s also about what isn’t.”
Stellantis says in a document posted on the company’s website to explain its bargaining positions that it wants a contract that “will protect our rights to consolidate or sell other underused real estate and facilities to lower our carbon footprint on the path to the Stellantis carbon net zero 2038 commitment.”
Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University, says it was a good move by Stellantis to publish details of its plans during what has become very public negotiations at the behest of the union.
LaShawn English, director of UAW Region 1 and a member of the union’s executive board, says the issues concerning unionized employees at the headquarters and technical center revolve around job losses and the future of the units now based at the Auburn Hills complex.
“They’re always talking about outsourcing the work done by the skilled trades” workers, says English.
Mike Menendez, a carpenter and member of UAW Local 412, says the number of full-time employees in his unit has steadily declined. “They always have contractors doing work,” Menendez says during the rally and picketing outside the Auburn Hills complex.
Stellantis is also looking for ways to cut the cost of maintaining the engineers belonging to the salaried bargaining unit, which currently numbers about 2,300. That is down significantly from the 4,000 salaried workers covered under the 2015 contract.
“These are people who went to school and got the training. They have engineering degrees and master’s degrees,” says English. “And they’re talking about moving jobs to Poland.” Stellantis this week released plans for a $40 million battery lab in Italy.
The Auburn Hills complex, however, houses expensive installations such as a wind tunnel and dynamometers geared to testing vehicles, transmissions and engines, as well as specially equipped workspaces for creating prototypes of new designs and full-scale vehicles from scratch.
However, while a substantial part of the engineering staff in areas such safety, emissions and quality, durability and reliability work on-site, day-to-day occupancy at the complex has steadily dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020. The headquarters office tower topped by the iconic Chrysler logo has been emptied out, even though it continues to serve as the headquarters for Fiat Chrysler, which is still the legal name for the Stellantis Group’s North American unit.
Before the pandemic, the complex, which opened in 1990, was home to as many as 12,000 Fiat Chrysler employees and contractors.
Stellantis does allow salaried employees, including unionized salaried employees, to work from home 70% of the time under a hybrid system that requires them to be in company offices the other 30% of the time, according to Jodi Tinson, a Stellantis spokeswoman.
In a profanity-laced speech last week, Rich Boyer, the UAW vice president in charge of negotiations with Stellantis, describes the company plans as nothing less than a continuation of the automaker’s efforts to downsize its footprint in the U.S. that began with the shutdown last winter of the assembly plant in Belvidere, IL.
Boyer is vowing to resist the changes in Auburn Hills and Stellantis’ efforts to consolidate the company’s existing network of service parts distribution warehouses across the country. The union will resist the shutdown of any facility, says Boyer.
Stellantis says it is simply preparing for the future. “To be clear, the vast majority of this proposal is to modernize our operations and enable us to run our parts distribution centers more efficiently, while preserving those jobs,” the automaker says.
“In addition, we also continue to prepare for the electrified future, with plans to invest in two electric-vehicle battery plants in the United States and multiple other plants including the Dundee (MI) Engine Plant and the Kokomo (IN) Casting Plant,” it notes.
Stellantis also emphasizes it actually plans to expand its service parts operations by adapting elements of the company’s successful effort in Europe to North America. This includes a new aftermarket brand called bprauto.
“While Mopar will remain the global original-equipment parts and authentic accessories brand for Stellantis, bproauto will offer an alternative for nearly all brands and all cars – new, used, owned, rented or shared,” says Mike Koval, head of Mopar North America.