By Tom Ozimek
Union members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) on Friday voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at Detroit’s Big Three automakers, setting up a tense final stretch of contract negotiations ahead of a looming deadline.
UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement on Friday that 97 percent of the the union’s 150,000 members who work at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, voted in favor of going on strike if a new contract agreement isn’t reached when the current one expires in several weeks.
“Our union’s membership is clearly fed up with living paycheck to paycheck while the corporate elite and billionaire class continue to make out like bandits,” Mr. Fain said. “The Big Three have been breaking the bank while we have been breaking our backs.”
The authorization vote doesn’t guarantee that a strike will take place, only that UAW members have agreed to a walkout if the three automakers don’t put forward satisfactory terms for the new contract.
The three contracts between UAW and Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis—which sells cars and trucks under the brands such as Dodge, Ram, and Chrysler—are set to expire on Sept. 14.
Contract proposals made by UAW so far would add roughly $80 billion in labor costs over four years for the Big Three automakers, according to Kristin Dziczek, automotive policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Detroit branch.
‘Forge a Fair Agreement’
Strike authorizations are a common tactic during contract talks, though tensions around these negotiations have been unusually high amid the Biden administration’s push towards electrification.
The UAW has expressed concern about the transition to electric vehicles, including federally subsidized work going to non-union battery plants.
The White House has become involved in trying to broker a deal, with Mr. Fain meeting President Joe Biden in the West Wing briefly in July to outline the UAW’s demands.
“As the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers come together—one month before the expiration of their contract—to negotiate a new agreement, I want to be clear about where I stand. I’m asking all sides to work together to forge a fair agreement,” President Biden said in an Aug. 14 statement.
‘Audacious and Ambitious List of Proposals’
Mr. Fain has outlined an ambitious set of goals, including a significant 46 percent pay hike for hourly workers over the duration of the new four-year contract that is being negotiated.
“We’re proposing substantial wage increases to offset years of damaging inflation and put auto workers back on a path toward shared prosperity,” Mr. Fain said in a video message a few weeks ago.
Wages haven’t kept up with the pace of inflation, which hit a four-decade high of 9.1 percent in June 2022.
“Yes, we’re demanding double-digit pay raises,” Mr. Fain continued. “Big Three CEOs saw their pay spike 40 percent on average over the last four years. We know our members are worth the same and more.”
Mr. Fain has also called for ending the tiered wage system that pays new hires less than veterans, reinstating cost-of-living adjustments, and restoring defined-benefit pension plans that the automakers ended years ago for new employees.
“As I go to the table this week, I’ll be giving the Big Three the most audacious and ambitious list of proposals that they’ve seen in decades,” Mr. Fain said in the video message.
For their part, the Big Three automakers have said they want to reach a deal that’s fair to workers but that also gives the companies flexibility as the industry shifts to electric models that have fewer parts and require less labor.
It takes around two-thirds the time to assemble a battery-powered electric vehicle as it does a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
Among its various demands, the UAW has asked for protections in case of plant closures.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis with a request for comment on the strike authorization.
‘Standard Procedure Used by Labor Unions’
General Motors called the strike authorization a “standard procedure used by labor unions going into contract negotiations” in an Aug. 25 update following the UAW’s vote.
The company said that the authorization vote doesn’t directly impact the bargaining process and that the talks “will continue until a new agreement is reached.”
Even if no deal is reached before the current contract expires, the authorization vote doesn’t mean the union will necessarily go on strike.
“Both sides can agree to extend the current contract to allow more time for negotiations,” General Motors said.
In response to Mr. Fain’s video message that outlined the UAW’s demands, General Motors said in an update on its website that it would offer a wage increase to its 50,000 or so hourly workers, but the company remained tight-lipped on other possible concessions.
General Motors said that the breadth and scope of Mr. Fain’s demands, “at face value, would threaten our ability to do what’s right for the long-term benefit of the team.”
“A fair agreement rewards our employees and also enables GM to maintain our momentum now and into the future,” the company said.