UAW Cites Slow Negotiations as Strike Continues, Snubs Politicians
Contract negotiations between Detroit automakers and the UAW resumed over the weekend with union leadership signaling that little progress had been made. Despite Stellantis having matched the 20-percent raises offered by GM and Ford over the weekend, UAW President Shawn Fain has said the overall agreements remain unsatisfactory.
As mentioned in our earlier coverage, the union is seeking a 40 percent raise across the board through 2027 — resulting in roughly $25 an hour (around $52,000 per year) for starting employees. Some of the benefits, many of which had been rolled back as concessions during the 2008 financial crisis, are also sticking points. Fain wants workers to see those benefits restored, claiming the industry can easily afford them.
“It’s definitely a no-go; we’ve made that very clear to the companies,” Fain told CBS News over the weekend.
At present, roughly 13,000 UAW employees are on strike at facilities owned by each of the three domestic companies. Besides the sizable increase in pay, the UAW is demanding shorter work weeks, a restoration of defined benefit pensions lost in earlier contract negotiations, and some guarantees about job security as automakers continue shifting toward all-electric vehicles. The latter issue is something that has also been a focus of the German union IG Metall for years after it became clear that the automotive sector would need fewer domestic hands to assemble EVs.
The strikes have stalled production of the Ford Bronco (in Michigan), Jeep Wrangler (in Ohio), and Chevrolet Colorado (in Missouri).
Ford announced on Friday, that it would be laying off roughly 600 workers at a Michigan plant because of the impact of the strike. GM likewise dumped an estimated 2,000 workers in Kansas adding that their factory likely would be shut down this week due to a lack of parts stemming from the strike at its Missouri plant. Meanwhile, Stellantis reportedly criticized the UAW for putting the future of the Belvidere Assembly Plant (located in Illinois) in jeopardy by striking.
However, that particular facility was idled in February after sales of the Jeep Cherokee dropped. Stellantis now has tentative plans to convert the factory into a plant focused entirely on producing EVs.
Fain has been critical of the industry’s response to the strike, especially when executives make assertions that worker compensation is fair. General Motors CEO Mary Barra has said her own pay is based largely on performance, which the union head has used as ammunition against the industry.
“To say they’re paid for their performance, that's completely incorrect,” Fain was quoted as saying by Automotive News. “They're paid for our workers’ performance and it's a shame that they make those millions off the backs of exploiting workers at poverty wages.”
While suggesting that union labor receives poverty wages seems a tad hyperbolic, it’s no secret that CEO compensation has ballooned dramatically.
Based on data from the Economic Policy Institute, CEO pay grew by a truly insane 1,460 percent between 1978 and 2021. By contrast, most labor-intensive jobs have failed to even keep pace with inflation, resulting in top-tier automotive executives earning 300 times what the average person on an assembly line might. Widening compensation gaps between upper management and the average employee are something that’s become glaringly obvious in most industries.
Considering the above, UAW strikes are likely to continue until Ford, GM, and Stellantis are willing to do more for the union. While Fain has declined to say when the UAW would announce a second wave of strikes that would rope in additional facilities, that seems the probable outcome without there being a desirable deal on the table.
Fain also debunked any claims that the White House has been assisting the UAW. Despite President Biden appearing to come to the defense of the union in last week’s speech, even noting that the automotive industry has enjoyed record profits of late, the UAW has said the Biden administration has played no role in contract negotiations.
When asked by whether Biden's relevant aides (senior White House adviser Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su) would be part of brokering an agreement by MSNBC, Fain answered, "Not at all."
Despite several Democratic candidates showing up at picket lines and the Biden administration claiming to have already sent the aforementioned aides, the UAW hasn’t seemed terribly interested in giving them much attention. Fain has repeatedly stated that he’s not interested in politicking or letting the UAW be used as a political tool.
“People are talking about them trying to inject themselves into our negotiations," said Fain without mentioning any specific names. “That's a mischaracterization. They're not involved in negotiations.”
Donald Trump has also weighed in by urging the UAW to resist automakers’ planned transition to electric vehicles on the grounds that it will eliminate countless manufacturing jobs. But he has not yet attempted to intervene in any contract negotiations beyond suggesting that the overriding situation is unfair to American consumers and the workforce — citing high prices and low pay.
"This is our battle … Our negotiating teams are working hard. Our members are out there manning the picket lines and our allies are out there with us," Fain explained to MSNBC. "This battle is not about the president; it’s not about the former president or any other person prior to that."
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