After months of negotiations with the Detroit 3 failed to produce new labor agreements, the United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike against the automakers at midnight on the morning of Sept. 15. Here are answers to common questions about the strike and what might be ahead.
Key issues of UAW strike on Ford, GM and Stellantis
The UAW's four-year contracts with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis expired Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. In past years, the union has agreed to extend its contracts while it continued to negotiate with one or more of the automakers, but it refused to do so this time.
Shawn Fain, who narrowly won the UAW's presidency earlier this year in the union's first-ever direct election of officers, has taken a hard line against the automakers, warning them well ahead of the deadline that workers would strike if new deals weren't in place.
After making concessions to help the Detroit 3 before and during the 2008-09 recession, UAW members want to recover those lost benefits and receive a larger portion of the billions in profits the companies have generated since then. Pay increases are a top priority, with the union requesting raises totaling 40% over the four years of a new contract. The automakers are willing to give raises but said they can't afford to increase pay as much as the UAW wants.
The UAW also wants to get rid of the wage tiers that result in workers with different hire dates and seniority levels being compensated unequally. However, the automakers are unwilling to restore costly benefits such as pensions and the jobs bank that contributed to their previous financial troubles that culminated in the federal government-sponsored Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations for GM and then-Chrysler.
The companies' use of temporary workers is another sticking point. The automakers use temps to fill in for absent and vacationing workers so they can avoid disruptions on the assembly lines, but the UAW argues that they should be paid the same as regular employees and quickly graduate to full-time status.
Detroit 3 hourly workers at the top of the pay scale earn about $32 an hour. Including health care and other benefits, each worker costs the automakers $112,000 to $134,000 a year. Getting to that level takes eight years for newly hired workers, though the companies have offered to cut that time to four years. The UAW wants to have workers reach top wages in 90 days, as its contracts used to be structured.
The 40% raises the union initially demanded — based on the union's calculation that compensation for the companies' CEOs rose 40% during the previous four-year contract — would bring top pay up to nearly $47 an hour in 2027. When the strike began, the automakers (which disagree with the union's methodology for calculating their CEOs' pay) were offering raises of about half as much as the union wanted, which would bump top hourly pay to about $39. The UAW also wants to have members work only 32 hours a week instead of today's 40-hour standard without getting reduced weekly pay.
Workers also have received significant profit-sharing payments over the past decade. This year's payments averaged $14,760 at Stellantis, $12,750 at GM and $9,176 at Ford. The Stellantis and GM payouts were record highs.
Fain calls the strategy he's using a "stand-up strike." It's a nod to the famous sit-down strikes that led GM to recognize the UAW in 1937. Instead of ordering all UAW members at the automakers to go on strike at once, Fain started with about 13,000 workers at three assembly plants — one at each company — and warned the automakers that he would expand it at unspecified intervals.
The approach is meant to give the union leverage to amp up pressure as time goes on, while also keeping it from depleting its $825 million strike fund too quickly.
The UAW, which was founded in 1935, had never gone on strike against all three Detroit automakers. The union also had not been on strike against Ford since the 1970s.
Also historic is the Detroit 3's simultaneous negotiations with Unifor, the union representing Canadian auto workers. Unifor, taking an approach less confrontational than the UAW's, reached an agreement with Ford — its initial target — on Sept. 19. The three-year deal locks in substantial wage gains and pension improvements for workers, and will see Ford invest to expand production at one of its Windsor, Ont. powertrain plants starting in 2025.
Once it reaches a tentative agreement with a company, the UAW can either continue its strike until ratification occurs, as it did with GM in 2019, or call workers off the picket lines immediately, as it did in 2007 with GM and Chrysler. The process starts with local union leaders signing off on the deal. Then, details are shared with workers, who are asked to vote yes or no. If the agreement is supported by more than half of those voting, the contract is approved. If it's voted down, the union must go back to the bargaining table and could resume the strike if workers already had gone back to their jobs.
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