|Image: Crains Detroit
The United Auto Workers union has expanded its strikes against Ford and General Motors, citing a lack of progress in contract negotiations. Nearly 7,000 more workers walked off the job this week, intensifying the pressure on automakers.
The UAW said talks with Chrysler-parent Stellantis showed enough movement to avoid further strikes for now. But Ford and GM got hit with new walkouts impacting popular SUV models like the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator, Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave.
“We will win. Our strategy is working,” said UAW President Shawn Fain during a livestream address on Friday morning. He announced strikes at a Ford factory in Chicago and a GM plant in Lansing, Michigan.
This brings the total number of UAW members now on strike to around 25,000, out of 146,000 hourly workers at the Detroit Three automakers. It marks the first time the union has launched simultaneous strikes against all three companies.
The escalating job actions are aimed at forcing concessions on wages, cost of living adjustments, and paid time off. The union is seeking raises of up to 40% over 4 years. Automakers have countered with around 20% over the contract term.
Powerful Leverage for UAW
Picketing workers have already halted production at 3 assembly plants and dozens of parts distribution centers. This squeezed vehicle output by around 36,000 units so far, per GlobalData.
But the UAW has deliberately avoided striking factories that build the auto giants’ most profitable truck and SUV models. Walking out drivers of Ford’s F-150, GM’s Chevy Suburban, or other big cash cows gives the union maximum leverage.
The accumulating supply chain disruptions also increased pressure on automakers. Parts shortages forced companies to lay off workers at plants not directly affected by the strikes.
Ford may be closest to a deal after the UAW previously said talks were progressing. But the two sides hit a roadblock this week when Ford paused construction on an electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan.
President Biden Joins Picketing Workers
In a historic show of support for the strikes, President Joe Biden visited a GM parts distribution center being picketed by UAW members. No sitting president had ever before walked a striking auto workers’ picket line.
Biden’s visit signaled strong White House backing for the union’s demands. It came a day before former President Donald Trump held a rally in Michigan criticizing the shift to electric vehicles.
UAW members walked off the job nearly 3 weeks ago after contracts expired mid-September. The union is seeking a bigger slice of the vast profits automakers have seen in recent years, especially from highly lucrative trucks and SUVs.
Automakers say much of that income has gone into developing costly new electric models to meet government mandates and compete with Tesla. They call their offers generous and aimed at retaining jobs.
Key Details on the Strikes:
- Nearly 25,000 UAW workers now striking nationwide at Ford, GM and Stellantis plants
- 3 vehicle assembly plants halted: Ford, GM, Stellantis
- Parts supply to dealers already disrupted, shortages growing
- Output reduced by estimated 36,000 vehicles so far
- Union demanding raises up to 40% over 4 years
- Automakers offered around 20% wage increases
- Ford seen as closest to potential deal with UAW
- Biden visited GM parts facility, supported picket line
- Former President Trump later held Michigan rally criticizing shift to EVs
The stakes are high for both sides as the UAW deploys its most aggressive tactics in decades. A lengthy strike could damage the automakers’ profits and the union’s public support.
But the UAW sees the auto giants as flush with cash from 2021’s banner profit year of over $70 billion combined. With the economy uncertain, workers want to lock in big raises while automakers are still highly profitable.
Ongoing negotiations will determine if the union’s pressure pays off. The UAW could expand strikes to more critical assembly plants building highly profitable trucks and SUVs. For now, it has spared factories producing the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra and others.
Any tentative agreement with an automaker would go to UAW members for a ratification vote. The union likely achieved progress by targeting all three simultaneously. But it risks longer shutdowns that could hurt workers and the industry.
Both sides ultimately want to avoid a prolonged strike that damages profits, jobs and worker morale long-term. But with talks at an impasse, neither is backing down yet. The coming days will prove pivotal in shifting the balance of power.
Stay tuned to our labor coverage for the latest developments on this ongoing story as the UAW drives a hard bargain with automakers over workers’ share of record profits.