Less than 24 hours before a contract deadline, the head of the United Auto Workers said Wednesday that its members are ready to strike against three Detroit automakers — initially at a limited number of factories, with the walkout expanding if negotiations stall.
UAW President Sean Fine ruled out extending existing four-year contracts with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellandis after they expired Thursday night. “September 14 is a deadline, not a reference point,” he told union members on Facebook Live.
He said the initial strike locations would be “defined and targeted” and members would be notified Thursday night ahead of Friday’s walkout.
The tactic — a departure from the union’s usual strategy of conducting an all-out strike against a single target automaker — is intended to give UAW negotiators more leverage in negotiations and throw manufacturers off balance.
“It keeps them guessing as to what’s going to happen next,” Mr. Fine said.
While a strike at even a few plants would disrupt production at the automakers, it would ensure that the vast majority of the 150,000 UAW members at the three companies would continue to work and receive paychecks.
The union plans to pay striking workers $500 a week and cover the cost of their health insurance premiums. The union has an $825 million strike fund that would cover workers’ compensation for a full strike against the three companies for about three months.
In its initial proposal for the companies, the union called for 40 percent pay rises over four years, with pay packages for chief executives at companies rising on average over the past four years. The union has also sought regular cost-of-living adjustments that raise wages in response to inflation.
The union calls for pensions for all workers, enhanced retiree benefits, shorter work hours and an end to a tiered wage system that starts new hires at half the $32 an hour UAW wage.
The companies – each negotiating separately with the union – said Mr. According to Fine, the union has made counter-proposals to raise wages by half of what it is asking for, and has done even less to satisfy other demands.
Mr. After Fine’s announcement, General Motors released a statement saying: “We continue to negotiate directly and in good faith with the UAW and offer strong offers. We are making progress in key areas.”
Declaring that “the future of our industry is at stake,” Ford said it was “ready to reach an agreement” and that it needed to “work creatively to solve tough problems rather than planning strikes and PR events.”
Stellandis said he made his latest offer to the union on Tuesday. “Our focus is on negotiating in good faith to get a tentative agreement on the table before tomorrow’s deadline,” the agency said.
A week earlier, the UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging GM and Stellantis failed to respond to the union’s proposals and bargained unfairly.
Eric Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor who follows the auto industry, said a strike is highly likely. “I think they can reach an agreement on wages, but these other issues are complex and cannot be solved by splitting the difference in the last 36 hours,” he said.
Mr. Fine’s 40-minute speech was punctuated by quotations from the Bible; memories of a grandfather who was a union auto worker; and plenty of fiery language.
“For the last 40 years, the billionaire class has been taking everything and leaving everyone else to scramble for scraps,” he exclaims at one point. “We are not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”
He also presented a series of slides listing the union’s demands for wages, benefits, job security and other issues, along with the companies’ responses. And he contrasted his leadership team’s negotiations with the approach of their ousted predecessors last year.
In the past, UAW leadership typically gave union members little information about the status of negotiations until a tentative agreement was reached. Members are “tired of the company-union philosophy” and that dealings with companies should be open to union members and “not behind closed doors like in the past,” Mr. Fein said.
The prospect of a large-scale strike comes as automakers struggle to make near-record profits and the transition to electric vehicles. GM, Ford and Stellantis — Chrysler’s parent — are investing billions of dollars to develop new technologies and electric models, build new battery plants and rebuild old factories.
The union is concerned about possible job losses as a result of the change. Electric vehicles — which don’t have components like transmissions or fuel systems — require fewer workers to produce.
All three companies build battery plants with partners not automatically covered by the UAW contract. Workers at a GM battery plant in Ohio that started production late last year voted to join the UAW and are negotiating their own contract with the company.
Curtis Lee Contributed report.