Union President Shawn Fain has called those offers inadequate after years of strong inflation and large corporate profits and executive salaries.
“This is the defining moment of our generation,” Fain said in a Facebook Live speech to union members Thursday night, less than two hours before the deadline. “The money is there. The cause is just. The world is watching. And the UAW is ready to show its face.”
Fain said the union would initially suspend work at specific locations at each company, in what he called a “standing strike,” and would expand the action to additional factories if contract negotiations are unsuccessful.
It is the first time the union has launched a strike of any size at all three companies at the same time. The last national auto strike was against General Motors in 2019.
At the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, about 200 people, union members and supporters in red T-shirts (some waving signs that read “Saving the American Dream”) gathered outside a union hall across the street from the Michigan assembly plant. When the clock struck midnight, they began singing “Solidarity Forever.”
Adelisa LeBron, a striking Ford employee who works on the engine line at the Michigan Assembly, said she is striking because, as a single mother, she cannot afford to support her children without a second job. LeBron took her mother, who also works for Ford, and her daughter to the picket line Friday morning. LeBron earns $24 an hour after two years at the facility. “As a single father, I work paycheck to paycheck,” LeBron said. “I love the way Shawn fights for us, how he’s not going to settle.”
Automakers have stressed that they are striving to negotiate a fair deal, with bigger pay increases than they have offered in years. But they have said they cannot meet all of the union’s demands and remain viable. Those demands include a 32-hour work week, defined benefit pensions for all workers instead of 401(k) accounts, and company-funded retirement health care.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said Thursday that if the company had provided that package to its workers over the past four years, it would have racked up $15 billion in losses and “would have gone bankrupt by now.”
“There’s no way we can be sustainable as a company” under these terms, Farley said. CNBC. “Do you want us to opt for bankruptcy instead of supporting our workers? Here is our proposal: let’s work on this.”
Farley also accused the union this week of staging “public relations events” and failing to respond to Ford’s latest offer, which he described as the company’s most generous in 80 years. The union is planning a rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in Detroit on Friday night.
Late Thursday, Ford said the UAW had finally responded to the company’s offer but had shown “little movement” on its position.
At Ford’s Wayne plant, workers were fired five hours before the night shift, which ends at 4:30 a.m., in anticipation of the work stoppage. Sharifia Fambro, 52, who installs faceplates on Broncos for $19.10 an hour, said she was striking to eliminate employment levels that disadvantage newer workers like her. Fambro receives no retirement benefits and can barely keep up with his $1,200 monthly rent payments. “No, I’m not worried about going on strike,” Fambro said. “I’m thinking about the big picture.”
Striking workers will stop receiving salaries from the companies and will instead receive a payment of $500 per week from the UAW strike fund. Ford officials warned Thursday that workers at non-striking plants will also be harmed if a location lacking parts from striking plants is forced to halt production. In that case, many of those workers will be placed on temporary unemployment, in line with Ford’s usual policy when plants are idle for lack of parts, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The Stellantis plant in Toledo makes Jeep Wranglers and Jeep Gladiators and employs 4,174 hourly workers, according to the company website. G.M. Wentzville Plant It makes Chevrolet Colorado trucks and Express trucks, as well as GMC Canyon trucks and Savana trucks, and employs about 4,100 people. ford Michigan Assembly Plant Wayne makes Ranger trucks and Bronco SUVs and employs about 4,600 hourly workers, but Fain said only final assembly and paint shop workers left initially.
GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said Thursday that the company had increased its wage increase offer to 20 percent over the life of the contract in order to avoid a strike. Full-time UAW workers today earn between $18 and $32 an hour.
“We are disappointed by the actions of UAW leaders, despite the unprecedented economic package GM put on the table, including historic wage increases and manufacturing commitments,” GM said in a statement Friday morning. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members, customers, suppliers and communities across the United States.”
Early Friday morning, Stellantis officials said in a statement that they are “extremely disappointed in the refusal of UAW leaders to engage responsibly to reach a fair agreement in the best interest of our employees, their families and our clients”.
The UAW’s 150,000 automotive members produce nearly half of the light vehicles made in the United States, according to the analytics firm GlobalData.
A strike that significantly disrupts auto production could quickly spread and affect suppliers and other businesses in auto manufacturing communities. As auto factories closed, those companies would stop ordering parts. Many auto parts suppliers are still trying to recover from the long shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic and would be affected by another disruption, analysts say.
Alarmed by the prospect of a widespread work stoppage in an industry that accounts for about 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the White House has been urging all sides to reach an agreement.
president biden He spoke with Fain and auto company executives on Thursday, a White House spokesman said. The White House is preparing economic measures to protect auto industry suppliers from long-term damage, concerned that they will be particularly vulnerable in any strike, according to three people with knowledge of internal conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe deliberations. private. .
Automakers have argued that a large increase in their labor costs, or a prolonged shutdown, would undermine their efforts to ramp up production of electric vehicles, a major undertaking that is costing the global auto industry tens of billions of dollars. .
Fain has argued that workers deserve the same generous pay increases that executives got over the life of the current contract, which was signed in 2019.
GM CEO Barra’s compensation grew 34 percent between 2019 and 2022, to $29 million last year. The Ford CEO’s salary grew 21 percent during that period, to $21 million last year. Stellantis, based in the Netherlands and formed through the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler and France’s Peugeot SA, did not exist when the deal began. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares earned about $25 million last year, including long-term incentives.
Workers across the country have struggled to raise wages that have not kept pace with inflation. Consumer prices have risen 20 percent since the UAW signed its last contract in 2019, and starting salaries at the Big Three are about $10 lower than they would be if they had kept pace with inflation since 2007, he said. the UAW.
Beyond the salary increases they offer, companies have made other concessions. All three companies are offering to allow workers to advance to the highest wage level at a faster rate than in the past. They have also made concessions in temporary workers, who earn much less than full-time workers and are often stuck in temporary status for years. Ford is proposing to convert all of its current temporary workers to full-time after 90 days of work, while GM and Stellantis are offering an immediate 20 percent raise over temps’ starting pay, to $20 an hour.
At the Jeep factory in Toledo, hundreds of workers poured out of the plant’s nine doors when the strike began, according to Phil Reiter, a night shift worker making $31.77 an hour after 10 years.
Outside, hundreds of day-shift workers waited beyond the factory gates to cheer them on as they left, Reiter said in a telephone interview. Among the workers who came out, some were cheering and others were anxious, he said, adding that he felt a mix of both.
“Obviously there’s never a guarantee how long something like this will last,” he said. “My instinct is that it won’t be long… but Stellantis, his main concern seems to be profits, period.”
Jeff Stein in Washington contributed to this report.