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UAW to expand strike at Ford and GM, cites progress at Stellantis


Striking United Auto Workers (UAW) union workers picket outside the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, U.S., September 23, 2023. REUTERS/Dieu-Nalio Chery

The United Auto Workers will walk off the job at an additional plant each at General Motors (GM.N) and Ford (F.N), but will spare Stellantis after last-minutes concessions by the Chrysler parent, union president Shawn Fain said on Friday.

The first-ever simultaneous strike against the Detroit Three automakers enters its third week, expanding to Ford’s Chicago assembly plant and GM’s Lansing, Michigan, assembly plant, covering about 7,000 workers, Fain said in an announcement.

That brings the total number of workers on the picket lines to 25,000, or about 17% of the union’s 146,000 members at the three automakers. The strike will not include any additional members at Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI).

“Despite our willingness to bargain Ford and GM have refused to make meaningful progress,” Fain said in a video address Friday morning. He noted that prior to his announcement, the UAW had seen a “flurry” of interest from the companies on Friday morning.

Ford and Stellantis did not immediately comment while GM said in an email to employees it still has “not received a comprehensive counteroffer from UAW leadership to our latest proposal made on September 21. Calling more strikes is just for the headlines, not real progress.”

The UAW had been planning to announce a new strike at Stellantis, sources briefed on the matter said, but Fain said moments before he was due to address members at 10 a.m. Stellantis called and made significant changes in its contract proposal.

The Ford and GM plants will strike at noon Friday.

On Thursday, the union made a counter-proposal to Stellantis. Fain cited progress with Stellantis around cost of living allowance payments to offset inflation, as well as right to strike over product commitments and plant closures.

Talks among the UAW and negotiators for the Detroit Three were described as “very active” by one person briefed on the situation, and on Friday Fain said they continue at all three companies.

“To be clear, negotiations haven’t broken down,” he said. “I’m still very hopeful that we can reach a deal.”

“We are fed up with corporate greed and we are fed up with corporate excess. We are fed up with breaking our bodies for companies that take more and more and give less and less,” he added.

The UAW is expected to continue work stoppages currently under way until a new contract is ratified, a source familiar with the situation said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“What Shawn Fain wanted is a tit for tat: If you’re good for us at the table, we won’t mess with you. If you’re bad with us at the table, we will escalate the strike. So I think it’s having its desired effect,” said Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

The U.S. has seen an uptick in union activism in 2023. Through August – before the UAW strike – 310,000 U.S. workers were involved in work stoppages, putting 2023 on track to become the busiest year for strikes since 2019.

Workers in shipping, entertainment, air and rail industries have pressed for higher wages as unemployment has remained low and as wage growth trailed inflation but executive pay rose dramatically.

The UAW strike is entering its third week as autoworkers push for higher wages and benefits and the elimination of a tiered standard that pays newer workers far less.

Automakers say the union’s demands would hurt their profits as they try to compete with nonunion manufacturers like Tesla.

The union escalated the initial strike on Sept. 22, when workers walked off the job at General Motors and Stellantis distribution facilities in 20 states nationwide. It began on Sept. 15, when workers struck at one plant each from GM, Ford and Stellantis.

The UAW did not strike at Ford distribution facilities last week, citing progress in talks with that company. Ford and UAW negotiators appeared to be close to an agreement this week, but talks stalled during the week, the sources said. Ford’s decision to stop work on a $3.5 billion battery plant in Marshall, Michigan, drew an angry response from Fain.

The union previously shut one assembly plant at each of the Detroit Three, and 38 parts distribution centers at GM and Stellantis. Strikers get $500 a week from the UAW’s strike fund.

Ford and GM shares each gained about 0.5% in trading Friday. Stellantis shares gained 0.8% in trading in Milan.

The effect of these walkouts has been relatively limited compared to the financial hit from halting assembly lines that build Ford F-series, Chevy Silverados and Ram trucks. The UAW’s strategy with its latest expansion of the strike was to cause pain at GM and Ford, but not inflict maximum pain, a source familiar with the thinking said.

Analysts estimate GM, Ford and Stellantis earn as much as $15,000 per vehicle on each of their respective large pickup truck models.

“It shouldn’t affect volumes too much. It’s another warning,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions. “They haven’t hit the meat of the profits.”

The UAW has taken a new approach with walkouts to turn up pressure on the automakers. Rather than the hammer blow of a mass walkout, the UAW has used strikes like a ratchet, keeping company executives guessing where the next turn would come.

The union and the companies remain far apart on key economic issues. Fain has stuck with a demand for 40% pay hikes over a four-year contract, a position supported by President Joe Biden during a visit to Detroit on Tuesday. The companies have countered with offers of about 20%.

The UAW also is pushing automakers to eliminate the two-tier wage system, under which new hires can earn far less than veterans.

The Ford assembly plant in Chicago builds the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator SUVs, while the GM plant in Lansing makes the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave SUVs.

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