UAW Strikes Slated to Expand Next Week
America’s automotive union has committed itself to expanding strikes if leadership feels meaningful progress has not been made by the end of this week. UAW President Shawn Fain has said more factories would be called up to picket if the state of contract negotiations are still deemed lacking on Friday.
While the union hasn’t indicated which (or how many) facilities would be joining the strike, messaging from the UAW has tried to convey to the public that it’s serious about having its demands met and will do whatever it takes to reach its contract goals.
“We’ve been available 24/7 to bargain a deal that recognizes our members’ sacrifices and contributions to these record profits. Still the Big Three failed to get down to business,” Fain said in a video posted to the UAW website on Monday night. “That’s why, last week, our brave union family at Wentzville Assembly, Toledo Assembly, and final assembly and paint departments at Michigan Assembly were called on to Stand Up and go out on strike. And that’s exactly what they did.”
“I have been clear with the Big Three every step of the way. And I’m going to be crystal clear again right now.” continued the union head. “If we don’t make serious progress by noon on Friday, September 22nd, more locals will be called on to Stand Up and join the strike. That will mark more than a week since our first members walked out. And that will mark more than a week of the Big Three failing to make progress in negotiations toward reaching a deal that does right by our members.”
As previously reported, the UAW currently has around 13,000 workers striking at three aforementioned plants owned by General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Stellantis since September 14th when their preexisting contract expired. Other facilities have remained operational, with the UAW acknowledging that more could follow if negotiations lagged.
The union has assumed an adversarial tone and claims to be kicking politics to the curb. Considering the UAW sends millions of dollars to Democratic political candidates each year, this seems unlikely. However, we did see the union sending a meaningful amount of cash to Republican candidates in 2020 and its new leadership has said it will work with anyone that seems to have a vested interest in the American workforce.
It’s also been vocally averse to any intervention coming from politicians of late. However, that may be because American trust in government remains at historic lows and this is ultimately a war of public perception.
Leadership in the automotive industry wants consumers to feel like all employees are fairly compensated while attempting to gloss over the contentious, multi-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout given to General Motors and Chrysler (now Stellantis) in 2008. However, hinting at the prospect of another bailout isn’t off the table. Ford, the only American manufacturer that didn’t take the government bailout, has suggested that catering to all of the union’s demands (which are indeed sizable) would effectively bankrupt the company. There has also been general talk that sustained labor strikes and/or wage bumps could further increase the cost of new vehicles at a time when they’ve already surpassed record levels and are now difficult (or impossible) for the average American to afford.
Meanwhile, the union wants to throw the spotlight back on the staggering profits enjoyed by the industry in recent years and the decades of dramatic growth in executive pay while low-level employees were forced into making rolling concessions. However, it would prefer Americans ignore its history of corruption, with aspects of its former leadership having gone to jail for taking bribes.
While today’s UAW claims to have expunged unsavory actors, it’s still asking a lot of the industry. No excuses need to be made for the giant pay increases offered to top executives. But some of the things the union is asking for will indeed cost automakers a staggering amount of money — particularly some of the healthcare benefits it’s demanding for retiring workers.
Perhaps if the industry had offered more through the years, the UAW wouldn't be making such sizable demands. Maybe habitual government intervention ultimately weakened these companies, making it more lucrative to play regulatory games than simply building a sound product. But we cannot go back in time to solve a problem that we're confronted with now.
"Autoworkers have waited long enough to make things right at the Big Three. We’re not waiting around, and we’re not messing around,” said Fain. “So, noon on Friday, September 22nd is a new deadline.”
“Either the Big Three get down to business and work with us to make progress in negotiations or more locals will be called on to Stand Up and go out on strike,” he continued. “Between now and then, UAW members will keep organizing actions. Those on strike will remain on strike. And those on the job will keep monitoring for unilateral changes made by management, which are not allowed under an expired contract.”
The UAW wants to see a 40 percent increase in wages by 2027 (about $28 per hour), the restoration of the cost-of-living adjustments (abandoned in 2009), defined pension benefits for all workers, the right to strike over plant closures, more time off, a working family protection program, for temporary workers to gain full status after 90 days, increased retiree pay, and the restoration of retiree medical benefits.
That last one may not sound like a big deal. But it may end up being the single most costly item in the UAW’s list of demands.
The union has also made mention of pivoting to a four-day work week. However, the matter doesn’t seem to come up much anymore and may have been dumped. Curiously, there was some talk within the industry that the concept might work if employees put in longer days. Our guess is that nobody could figure out how best to manage that, with there being some arguments about how that would work for overtime pay.
I guess we'll see where things are at on Friday.
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