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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Union and 3 Detroit automakers resume talks


Striking autoworkers outside Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant on Saturday. The United Auto Workers is seeking a substantial pay increase as well as an end to lower pay for new hires.


By NEAL E. BOUDETTE


The United Auto Workers union and the three Detroit automakers on Saturday resumed negotiations on a new labor contract as a targeted strike entered its second day.


The union is striking against all three manufacturers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — but for now has limited the work stoppages to one plant at each of the companies: a Ford plant in Michigan, a GM plant in Missouri and a Stellantis plant in Ohio.


“We had reasonably productive conversations with Ford today,” the union said in a statement. It made no mention of its talks with GM and Stellantis.


On Friday, Ford said it had told 600 workers who are not part of the strike not to report to work, and GM said the work stoppage could force it to lay off about 2,000 workers at a plant in Kansas that gets parts from the Missouri factory.


In a statement Saturday, UAW President Shawn Fain said the automakers’ hints at possible layoffs were intended to “squeeze our member to settle for less” than the union has demanded.


“With their record profits, they don’t have to lay off a single employee,” he said.


The union is seeking a substantial pay increase, an expansion of pension plans to cover all workers, company-paid retiree health care and shorter workweeks. It also seeks an end to the “tiered” wage system in which new hires start at a little more than half the standard union wage and have to work eight years before reaching the top level.


In its initial list of demands, the UAW called for a 40% wage increase, saying that matches the average pay increases the CEOs of the three companies have gotten over the past four years.

On Saturday, Stellantis — parent of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram — said its most recent offer provided for an immediate 10% raise and additional increases that would lift wages a total of 21% over the life of the new contract, which is typically four years.


The company also said it offered to allow inflation-based wage adjustments. Under its proposal, new hires would rise to the top wage — currently $32 an hour — over four years instead of eight. Temporary workers, who now make $16.67 an hour, would move to about $21 an hour, Stellantis said.


“It’s a very fair, highly competitive offer,” Mark Stewart, chief operating officer of Stellantis’ North American division, said in a conference call.


“We clearly understand we’ve been in an inflationary environment,” Stewart said. “We understand we need to make changes to reflect what’s happened since the last contract.” At the same time, he continued, the company has to make sure it can compete with rivals that operate nonunion plants, including Tesla and foreign-owned automakers including Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen.


“We’ve got to have a viable industry,” Stewart said. “At the end of the day, we have to be able to compete.”


GM and Ford have made similar offers on wages and reducing the climb to the top wage to four years, but all three companies have rejected many of the union’s other demands related to pensions, health care and job security.


Stewart also said Stellantis made a proposal to provide “job security” for about 1,350 people who lost their jobs this year when Stellantis idled a plant in Belvidere, Illinois. He declined to detail the company’s offer and would not say if it included having the Belvidere plant produce new vehicles, a step that would signal it planned a full reopening of the factory.


That offer only remained on the table until the strike began, however.


Later Saturday, Fain released a statement: “Belvidere Assembly was a profitable plant that just a few years ago supported around 5,000 workers and their families. Now that number is zero, and Stellantis wants to keep playing games.” He added, “Our attitude is: Save Belvidere.”


Reopening the Belvidere plant is one of the most important goals for Fain. He was elected to his post this year on a promise to take a harder and more confrontational approach than his predecessors.


Four years ago, the UAW went on strike for 40 days against GM and hoped to push the company to reopen a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that GM had tagged for closing. In the end, the union agreed to a deal that allowed the company to shutter the factory.


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