Members of the United Auto Workers picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on September 25, 2019 with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (far left) in Detroit.
Michael Wayland | CNBC
DETROIT — The United Auto Workers union appears set to take a hard line when it comes to nationwide negotiations this year with Detroit automakers, warning of strikes or work stoppages if necessary.
UAW leaders publicly laid out their key bargaining issues Wednesday night, including reinstating a cost-of-living adjustment that was scrapped during the Great Recession; greater job security; and the end of a growth or tiered pay system in which members earn different salaries and benefits.
UAW President Shawn Fain said “the union will not take any concessions” from General Motors, Ford engine And Stellantide – a noble mission in such negotiations.
Contract negotiations between the union and automakers usually begin in earnest in July ahead of the expiration in mid-September of previous four-year agreements. Typically, one of the three automakers is the primary, or target, company the union chooses to negotiate with first and the others extend their deadlines. However, Fain said this year could be different, without going into specific details.
The union leaders, led by Fain, are largely newly elected leaders who have come forward on platforms to stand up to business and reform the organization in the wake of a years-long federal corruption scandal that involved partly from prior negotiations.
UAW leaders also discussed the record profits of Detroit automakers, collectively known as the Big Three, in recent years, while laying out the possibility of a strike if their demands are not met.
GM and Stellantis declined to comment on the town hall. Ford did not immediately respond.
UAW President Shawn Fain chairs the 2023 Special Election Collective Bargaining Agreement in Detroit, March 27, 2023.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
“I want to be clear on this, and I know it may sound crazy, but the choice of whether or not to strike is up to the Big Three,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock said during a virtual union meeting that was broadcast online. “We are clear on what we want.”
Labor strikes can be costly and deplete vehicle inventory. A 40-day strike against GM in the last round of negotiations four years ago cost GM an estimated $3.6 billion in 2019, including $2.6 billion in earnings before interest and taxes in the fourth quarter of this year.
Strikes can take many forms: a nationwide strike, where all contract workers stop working, or targeted work stoppages in certain factories for local contract issues.
The cabinet demands, strike rhetoric and town hall – titled “Back in the Fight: Our Generation’s Defining Moment in the Big Three” – run counter to historic union practices. Former union leaders delivered similar messages, but generally not so confrontationally or publicly before the talks.
“Here’s what you can expect from us: no more negotiations in total secrecy behind closed doors,” Fain said on Wednesday. “We’re going to hold national days of action at factories across the country…showing companies that we don’t play games, we mean business.”
Wall Street analysts have noted the possibility of a strike as well as rising labor costs as headwinds this year for Detroit automakers.
The transition to electric vehicles was another main talking point on Wednesday night, particularly around job security (vehicles are expected to be less labor intensive) and around organizing battery factories American reviews that are in early production or under construction.
Fain also called the White House without specifically naming President Joe Biden. Last month, the union said it would hold Biden’s re-endorsement until UAW concerns about the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles are resolved.
“We need to let everyone — from the White House to the State House to our local labor council — know that if you’re with us, we’ll be with you,” Fain said Wednesday. “Our fight is everyone’s fight.”
Speaking in front of a background of American-made vehicles and a UAW sign, President Joe Biden speaks about new proposals to protect American jobs during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan on September 9, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters