After midnight Friday, September 15, when the deadline for a new contract passed, some 12,700 workers at a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio, walked off the job. It marked the first time the UAW is striking at all three car companies. A week later, on Friday, September 22, the UAW announced that parts distribution workers at 38 GM and Stellantis locations in 20 states would go on strike.
“All options remain on the table,” said UAW President Shawn Fain in a speech on Facebook Live on the evening of September 14. “National leadership will determine the appropriate targets and timing for further stand-up strike action. This is our generation’s defining moment. The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up.”
The companies say they can’t afford to meet the union’s demands because they need to invest profits in a costly transition from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles . The UAW’s contract with the automakers expired at midnight on September 14, and workers walked out of a Ford assembly plant near Detroit, a GM factory in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Jeep plant run by Stellantis in Toledo, Ohio. The initial strike has involved about 13,000 of the union’s 146,000 members.
The impact is not yet being felt on car lots around the US, and it will probably take a few weeks before the strike causes a significant shortage of new vehicles, according to analysts. Prices could rise sooner however, if the prospect of a prolonged strike triggers panic buying.
United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain joins UAW members who are on a strike, on the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023
The UAW represents about 400,000 workers total across a number of sectors, and about 146,000, or one-third of those, work at the Big Three automakers.
There’s been a long-term decline in job quality over the past 40 years, which Bahn attributes to the decline in worker bargaining power. “When workers have less bargaining power, employers take advantage of that and make jobs worse,” she said.
Ultimately, as the industry shifts to electric vehicles, the union says there needs to be a just transition from current manufacturing jobs to battery-powered EVs, and workers are worried the switch to electric vehicles could cost jobs. This kind of aggressive bargaining and push to have worker’s voices heard could help labor have more of a say in that transition, labor advocates say.
Following is an excerpt from Fain’s prepared remarks describing the status of negotiations. You can view the remarks as delivered at the UAW’s Facebook and YouTube channels:
“As you know, we gave our Members Demands to the company two months ago. They wasted a whole month failing to respond. But there has been movement. In particular, we’ve made real progress at Ford. We’re not there yet, but I want you to see the direction that Ford is going, and what we think that means for our contract fight.
At Ford, Rawsonville Components and Sterling Axle employees will now be on the same wage scale as assembly workers. We have eliminated that entire wage tier. At Ford, we have officially reinstated the COLA that was suspended in 2009.
UAW family, many people said this couldn’t be done, but we just did it. We have also won, for the first time in our history, the right to strike over plant closures during the life of our agreement. I don’t have to tell you that this is an important victory in our fight to save our jobs, keep families together, and keep our communities from being gutted.
At Ford we’ve also won additional job security for our members in the event of indefinite layoff. If that happens, our members, including temporary workers, will now receive income security for up to two years, with healthcare.
We have moved Ford off of their concessionary formula to cut profit-sharing, and instead won an enhanced profit-sharing formula that would have resulted in a 13.3% increase for the average employee in payouts last year.
We have won the immediate conversion of all current temps. And all temps will have profit-sharing after 90 days service. And there are no concessions on the table.
All that represents serious movement on tiers, on COLA, on pay, and on job security. To be clear: we are NOT done at Ford. We still have serious issues to work through. But we do want to recognize that Ford is serious about reaching a deal.
At GM and Stellantis, it’s a different story.
We have won a serious victory at CCA and GMCH and have killed those two wage tiers. Those workers will now be on the same wage scale as assembly workers. Their first offer was a 0% raise for those workers. But without COLA and without strong Job Security, those gains are not protected.
Both companies are still offering a deficient COLA that is projected to provide ZERO increases over the next four years. Both companies have rejected all of our job security proposals.
Both companies have rejected our profit-sharing proposals. Both companies have rejected our proposals to convert temps.
So today, at noon Eastern time, all of the parts distribution facilities of General Motors and Stellantis will Stand Up and Strike. We will strike 38 locations across 20 states, across all 9 regions of the UAW.
At General Motors, we call on the CCAs at Pontiac, Willow Run, Ypsilanti, Davison Road, Flint, Lansing, Cincinnati, Denver, Hudson (Wisconsin), Chicago, Reno, Rancho Cucamonga, Fort Worth, Martinsburg, Jackson, Charlotte, Memphis, and Philadelphia to Stand Up and go on strike.
At Stellantis, we call on the parts distribution centers at Marysville, Centerline Packaging, Centerline Warehouse, Sherwood, Warren Parts, Quality Engineering Center, Romulus, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, Winchester, Orlando, Dallas, New York, and Boston to Stand Up and go on strike.
The plants that are already on strike will remain on strike, Local 2250 at GM Wentzville, Local 900 at Ford Michigan Assembly, and Local 12 at Stellantis Toledo Assembly. We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line, from our friends and families up to the President of the United States.
The way you can help is to build our movement and show the companies that the public stands with us and stands with our elected national negotiators.
As promised, we are expanding the Stand Up Strike in response to the lack of progress in bargaining with General Motors and Stellantis. We will shut down parts distribution until those two companies come to their senses and come to the table with a serious offer.”