Despite substantial offers from the automakers, negotiations with the United Union of Autoworkers (UAW) fell short on Thursday. With no agreement at the deadline of past midnight, the members kickstarted a historic strike at the carmakers Ford, GM, and Stellantis.
“Tonight, for the first time in our history, we will strike all three of the Big Three at once,” said President of UAW Shawn Fain. “We are using a new strategy: the stand-up strike.”
“Record Profits, Record Contracts”, “End Tiers, no 2nd Class Workers”, and “Saving the American Dream”. Those were the writings on the signs held by some 13 000 workers at three plants in Missouri, Michigan, and Toledo, who abandoned their work station and headed to the streets after negotiations collapsed. They were called to do so in a Facebook live call by UAW President Shawn Fain.
In the 88-year history of the UAW, it is the first time that a cross-brand strike of this size has occurred, demonstrating how a new wave of labor activism is rolling over the US.
‘Historic wage increase’
Both sides of the table accused each other of not taking the talks seriously. But the ambitions are definitively high. The UAW wants to end the eight-year loyalty period before workers get the same perks as experienced ones and demands a 46% payment rise over four years under the new contract.
Ford met it with a 20% raise, 18% at General Motors, and 17,5% at Stellantis. GM called the package a “historic wage increase and manufacturing commitment”.
At Stellantis, the historic strike was met by discouragement. An official statement issued immediately after the start of the strikes read: “We are extremely disappointed by the UAW leadership’s refusal to engage responsibly to reach a fair agreement in the best interest of our employees, their families, and our customers.”
Return to talks?
At Ford, the official comment pointed out the adamant attitude of the Union. It stated that the negotiators “showed little movement” from their position over the past weeks. Nevertheless, the automakers said they were ready to return to the talks as soon as possible to reach a beneficial agreement and control the damage of the production losses.
Though the strike is historical, its impact is well-measured and contained, as the UAW wants to keep the strike payments that it can draw from a 775 million euro trust fund under control.
Halting those three factories is only a first stage to leverage their demands. Full-scale strikes can only be expected if further negotiations fail. Whether the UAW continues its proposed rally near the NAIAS auto show, where the Detroit Three are taking the main stage, remains to be confirmed.
The choice of factories is deliberate as well. With the Ford Bronco built in Michigan, the Chevrolet Colorado in Missouri, and the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo, the UAW is hitting a sore spot.
Still, it is leaving the real cash cows of the automakers untouched. This is the idea behind a stand-up strike: instead of calling out all plants at once, the action builds up gradually over a more extended period to give the negotiators more pawns during the contract battle.