UAW says ‘more to be won’ despite record offers from automakers; declines to expand strikes

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Striking United Auto Workers (UAW) members from the General Motors Lansing Delta Plant picket in Delta Township, Michigan September 29, 2023.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union believes there is “more to be won” in ongoing contract negotiations with the Detroit automakers following five weeks of labor strikes against the companies, UAW President Shawn Fain said Friday.

His comments come despite record contract offers from General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis that now include 23% hourly pay increases and other significantly enhanced benefits during the terms of the four and a half-year deal.

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“There is more to be won,” Fain said during an online broadcast. “These are already record contracts, but they come at the end of decades of record decline. So it’s not enough to be the best ever, when auto workers have gone backwards over the last two decades. That’s a very low bar.”

Despite Fain’s comments, the union did not announce additional strikes Friday against any of the companies. He said the “bottom line is we’ve got cards left to play, and they’ve got money left to spend.”

Fain did not address a Friday report by Bloomberg that the union has asked for a 25% increase in general wages.

The union has not announced any additional strikes since initiating an unexpected walkout on Oct. 11 at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant that produces highly profitable pickup trucks and SUVs. That’s despite Ford having the best proposal regarding economics, as outlined Friday by Fain.

Fain spent quite a notable amount of time during the online broadcast discussing how the union plans to use these talks to assist in organizing non-union plans. He also heavily criticized the Monday comments of Ford Chair Bill Ford to bring an end to the negotiations.

“Bill Ford said it shouldn’t be Ford versus the UAW. He said it should be the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers,” Fain said. “I want to be crystal clear on one thing: The days of the UAW and Ford being a team to fight other companies are over … Non-union autoworkers are not the enemy. Those are our future union family.”

Ford said it remains “eager to conclude these negotiations with a contract” that benefits its workers, citing it’s “good that Mr. Fain acknowledged Ford’s contract offer ‘already’ is a record and remains the best one on the table.”

Stellantis said the sides “continue to be productive, building on the momentum from the past several weeks,” but declined to discuss specific details. GM declined to comment regarding Fain’s comments, citing details it released of its most recent offer earlier Friday.

The UAW hasn’t expanded strikes at GM since Sept. 29 or at Stellantis since Sept. 22, despite offers made this week not meeting details of Ford’s proposal from last week and Fain last week saying the union was initiating a “new phase” of strikes and contract negotiations.

“Right before a deal is when there’s the most aggressive push for that last mile. They just want to wait us out,” Fain said. “They want division. They want fear. They want uncertainty. And what we have is our solidarity.”

The strike at Ford’s Kentucky plant — responsible for $25 billion in revenue annually — marked a major escalation in the UAW’s targeted, or “stand-up,” strikes. It also represents a shift in strategy, as Fain had previously publicly announced the targets before the work stoppages occurred.

The UAW has been gradually increasing the strikes since the work stoppages began after the sides failed to reach tentative agreements by Sept 14.

About 34,000 U.S. automakers with the companies, or roughly 23% of UAW members covered by the expired contracts with the Detroit automakers, were on strike.

Here are details of current proposals by the companies to UAW:

  • Wages: All three automakers have offered a 23% pay increase over four and a half years.
  • Wage tiers: All three automakers have agreed to eliminate wage tiers at parts facilities where workers have historically been paid less than production-line workers.
  • Wage progression: Ford has offered a three-year progression to the top wage rate, a system that was in place from the mid-1990s until the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. GM has also offered a three-year progression, but only for current workers. GM wants a more gradual four-year progression for future hires. Stellantis has offered only a four-year progression.
  • Cost of living adjustments (COLA): Ford has offered to restore its COLA formula to the level last used in 2009, meeting the UAW’s demand. Fain said that GM is “approaching restoration but not fully there,” while Stellantis wants to delay cost-of-living adjustments by a year.
  • Job security: Ford and Stellantis have agreed to give the union the right to strike over plant closures, a key UAW demand. GM has so far rejected that demand.
  • Temporary workers: Ford has offered to convert current temp workers with 90 days of service to full-time employees, with a raise to $21 per hour for remaining and future temps. Whether those future temps will be converted to full-time employees automatically is still being negotiated, Fain said. GM has proposed to convert current and future temps with one year of service to full time employees, and has matched Ford with a $21 per hour wage for remaining and future temps. Stellantis agreed to convert “thousands” of current temps to full-time status, with a wage increase to $20 per hour for remaining and future temps. As with Ford, the automatic conversion of future temps is “still being negotiated,” Fain said.
  • Retirement plans: All three automakers have offered a $3 increase to pension benefits. Ford and Stellantis have offered to increase their 401(k) contributions to 9.5% plus $1 per hour. GM offered an increase to 8% plus $1.25 per hour.
  • Payments to retired workers: Ford offered annual lump sum payments of $250 to retired workers, with surviving spouses eligible to continue to receive the payments. GM offered a one-time lump sump payment of $1,000, with surviving spouses not eligible. Stellantis rejected all increases to retiree pay. Fain said all three offers were “deeply inadequate.”
  • Profit sharing: Ford offered to improve its existing profit-sharing formula by including profits from Ford Credit, its financing subsidiary, and to make temp workers eligible to receive profit-sharing payments. Stellantis and GM both want to maintain their current profit-sharing formulas, but GM has offered to make temp workers with 1,000 hours of service eligible to receive payments. Stellantis has not offered to make its temporary workers eligible to receive profit-sharing payments.
  • Work-life balance: All three automakers have offered to make Juneteenth an official paid holiday and have offered two weeks of paid parental leave.

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