The US auto workers’ union instigated a targeted strike at three factories shortly after midnight on Friday, implementing simultaneous stoppages at Detroit’s “Big Three” for the first time. This dramatic walkout occurred after a last-minute effort by General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis to reach an agreement before the contract’s expiration proved unsuccessful.
UAW President Shawn Fain announced in a webcast just prior to the September 14 deadline that, for the first time in history, they would strike all three of the Big Three simultaneously. The union would target one plant at each company: a GM factory in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis facility in Toledo, Ohio; and a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, specifically the final assembly and paint operations.
Approximately 12,700 workers walked off the job on Friday, as estimated by the UAW. This constitutes only a fraction of the 150,000 auto workers represented by the union. However, the union has indicated that the strike could expand if the companies do not improve their offer, a strategy supported by the workers.
The strike presents a new challenge for President Joe Biden, who has sought to secure support from organized labor as he gears up for re-election. The UAW has refrained from endorsing Biden thus far, a step already taken by other major unions.
On Thursday evening, Biden held a phone conversation with Fain and the heads of major automakers to discuss the ongoing negotiations. Fain declined to comment on his discussion with Biden, emphasizing that the focus was on the members at this time.
Many hourly workers argue that the major auto companies must provide significantly improved packages to compensate for meager wages and benefit cuts that followed the 2008 financial crisis, during which both GM and Chrysler, now part of Stellantis, underwent bankruptcy reorganizations.
All three companies have reported substantial profits in recent years. Workers like Paul Sievert, who has worked at Ford’s Wayne plant for 29 years, believe it’s high time they see a fair return for their contributions. They feel the company has been benefiting from their efforts for too long.
Fain expressed hope to avoid a strike but placed blame on the companies for delaying serious negotiations. He asserted that they will remain on strike until they secure their fair share of economic justice, regardless of how long it takes.
The UAW’s demands include a 40-percent increase in wages, a move Fain argues is necessary to match the surge in CEO compensation. Other key points involve raising pay and benefits for junior employees to align with more experienced workers, who currently earn around $32 an hour.
On Thursday, General Motors improved its offer by proposing a 20 percent wage increase, up from an initial 18 percent, as reported by the UAW. Despite presenting a “historic wage increases and manufacturing commitments,” GM expressed disappointment at the strike and pledged to continue bargaining in good faith.
Stellantis voiced extreme disappointment at the UAW’s refusal to engage in constructive negotiations. Ford, which had expressed concern about the UAW’s slow response to its latest offer, received a counterproposal four hours before the deadline, which it deemed as having “unsustainable” terms.
Ford emphasized its commitment to reaching an agreement that benefits employees and allows for future investments. While the company acknowledges the importance of unions, workers like Sievert believe that Ford can do better and are looking for a stronger show of mutual respect and care. Aware of the potential strike, Sievert followed union advice to save money, even working extra shifts and living at the plant to do so.