July 18th, 2024

UAW chief to say whether auto strikes will grow from the 34,000 workers now on picket lines

By Tom Krisher, The Associated Press on October 20, 2023.

DETROIT (AP) – United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain is expected to update members Friday afternoon on progress in contract talks with Detroit’s three automakers as movement was reported with General Motors.

Fain is scheduled to do a live video appearance, where he could call on more workers to walk off their jobs, joining the 34,000 already on strike at six vehicle assembly plants and 38 parts distribution warehouses.

The union’s strikes at targeted plants at each company began on Sept. 15 and are nearing the start of their sixth week.

A person briefed on the talks says the union is exchanging offers with GM and will meet again Friday with the company. The person didn’t want to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak on the record about the bargaining. There also were meetings on Thursday with Jeep maker Stellantis.

On Thursday, GM posted a video indicating that bargainers are still some distance apart. Gerald Johnson, the company’s global head of manufacturing, said GM has offered a total wage and benefit package that averages $150,000 per worker. It includes a 20% pay increase over four years and a company contribution of 8% per year in 401(k) accounts, cost-of-living increases, and it brings most workers to a top wage of $39.24 per hour by September of 2027, the company said.

GM already has agreed to pull new electric vehicle battery plants into the national UAW contract, essentially making them unionized, a key point for Fain and the union.

The UAW is seeking 36% wages, restoration of defined benefit pensions that workers gave up in the Great Recession, pension increases for retirees, an end to varying tiers of wages for workers and other items.

“You might might be asking yourselves why can’t General Motors meet every demand Shawn Fain is asking for?” Johnson said on the video. “Simple answer is we need profits to invest in our future.”

He goes on to say that during the past decade, GM had net income of $65 billion but invested $77 billion in the business. “If we don’t have those profits to continue our investments in our plants, our people and our products, we will be facing declining market share, an inability to fund the EV transition, and an inability to compete with a growing number of competitors right here in America,” Johnson said.

Ford and Stellantis have made similar comments, with Ford saying it has reached the limit on how much it can spend to settle the strike.

The union, however, says labor expenses are only about 5% of a vehicle’s costs, and the companies can divert money from profits and stock buybacks to pay for raises that cover inflation and make up for years of contracts without significant increases.

The strikes started with one assembly plant from each company after contracts expired at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 14. The union later added the parts warehouses, then one assembly plant each from Ford and GM.

Last week the union made a surprise move, escalating the strikes by adding a huge Ford pickup truck and SUV plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

But Fain told workers Friday that the union added the Kentucky plant after Ford presented an economic offer with no more money than a proposal from two weeks ago.

About 23% of the union’s 146,000 members employed by the three automakers are on strike.

Stellantis said Friday that it canceled displays and presentations at the upcoming Specialty Equipment Market Association show and the Los Angeles Auto Show as strike costs continue to grow. Earlier this week the company pulled out of the CES gadget show in January.

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