Little progress in talks to end strike against 3 Detroit automakers
By IVAN PENN
The Uited Auto Workers and the big three Detroit automakers largely held their ground over the weekend, seemingly no closer to reaching deals than they were when the autoworkers went on strike Friday.
“If we don’t get better offers and we don’t get down to taking care of the members’ needs, then we’re going to amp this thing up even more,” said Shawn Fain, president of the 150,000-member UAW, in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. Asked about an offer by one of the automakers, Stellantis, for a 21% pay increase over four years, Fain said, “It’s definitely a no-go.”
In a separate interview on MSNBC, Fain said that progress in the negotiations had been slow.
The union had talks with Ford on Saturday. It was going back to the bargaining table Sunday with General Motors and planned talks with Stellantis — the parent of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — on Monday, a spokesperson said.
The union has been pushing for a 40% wage increase over four years, improved retiree benefits and shorter work hours as well as an end to a tiered wage system that starts new hires at much lower wages than the top UAW pay of $32 an hour.
The Detroit automakers, which are spending billions of dollars in a transition to electric vehicles, say that paying significantly higher wages would put them at a disadvantage to Tesla as well as their foreign EV rivals.
The union has taken two unusual steps in pushing its demands. It has targeted all three Detroit companies — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis — at the same time rather than focusing on one as a proxy for the other two as it had done in prior job actions. And rather than authorizing a full-scale strike, the union chose a “limited and targeted” work stoppage by about 12,700 workers.
One point of contention highlighted in exchanges throughout the day Saturday was an assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois, that Stellantis idled earlier this year. Saving the Belvidere plant is one of Fain’s biggest priorities. He said it was a profitable facility with thousands of workers just a few years ago but “Stellantis wants to keep playing games.”
On Saturday, a top Stellantis executive said the company had proposed “job security” for about 1,350 people who lost their positions at the facility, but the offer was taken off the table when the strike began. And in an email late Saturday, Stellantis criticized the union for its characterization of the discussions about the Belvidere plant.
“Our intention was to present a strong proposal for Belvidere and, at the same time, avoid a strike for our represented workers,” Stellantis said in the email. “The truth is UAW leadership ignored Belvidere in favor of a strike. We stand ready to get everyone back to work as soon as possible.”
The UAW has said its demand for 40% wage increases over four years is in line with how much the salaries of the companies’ CEOs have grown. The companies have proposed a wage increase of roughly half what the union is pushing for, arguing that the billions of dollars they invested in electric vehicles make it difficult to support pay that is higher than what they have offered.
Although the strike is limited so far, an extended one could complicate the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight inflation by pushing up the cost of new cars as fewer are produced. The union has targeted plants that produce some of the automakers’ most profitable trucks: a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, that makes the GMC Canyon and the Colorado; a Stellantis complex in Toledo, Ohio, that makes the Jeep Gladiator and Wrangler; and a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, that makes the Bronco and the Ranger pickup.
The work stoppage could also affect other businesses in the automakers’ supply chain.
President Joe Biden, who has been unapologetically pro-union, has said he supports the UAW. Still, the labor demands and the walkout could conflict with his climate agenda, which re-imagines an electric-vehicle future for car companies that may well require less labor.