UAW Plans Targeted Strike That Could Grind US Auto Production to a Halt

UAW targeted strike plan will limit walkouts while grinding U.S. auto production to a halt.
UAW Plans Targeted Strike That Could Grind US Auto Production to a Halt
UAW President Shawn Fain chairs the 2023 Special Elections Collective Bargaining Convention in Detroit, Mich., on March 27, 2023. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
Bryan Jung

The United Auto Workers outlined plans for a series of strikes at individual auto plants belonging to Detroit's Big Three automakers if agreements are not reached.

The potential walkout would be the autoworkers union's first-ever simultaneous strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis over contracts, said UAW President Shawn Fain in a Facebook Live address on Sept. 13.

There would be no company wide walkouts if both sides failed reach a deal, which is a departure from the usual strategy of staging an all-out strike against a single automaker chosen as a target.
Mr. Fain intends that the new strategy will throw the companies off balance and giving the union maximum leverage at the bargaining table.

UAW to Carry Out New Strike Plan

Details of the UAW plan, which include the plants to be targeted, will be kept secret until right before the contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14, according to Mr. Fain.

He did say that union leadership was beginning to see "movement from the companies,” but that both parties were still far apart on many issues, suggesting that a strike is likely.

“We do not yet have offers on the table that reflect the sacrifice and contributions our members have made to these companies,” Mr. Fain said, adding that "to win, we're likely going to have to take action."

He said the union could escalate pressure on the carmakers if negotiations failed to go nowhere and that they were "preparing to strike these companies in a way they have never seen before."

A targeted strike could potentially shut down operations for the Detroit automakers across the board, depending on which plants and facilities were struck.

Each of the Big Three operates a complex network of plants, which supply different parts to one another to keep operations running.

Stopping or slowing production at even a few engine or transmission plants would be just as effective as a full strike at every plant, according to industry experts.

Another advantage of a targeted strike is that it would save the union resources and extend a possible strike, as members who go on strike are eligible for $500 a week in benefits from the UAW strike fund.

In contrast, if all unionized workers at the Big Three's plants struck at the same time, it would cost the UAW more than $70 million a week and quickly drain its $825 million strike fund.

There is also the chance that the manufacturers could shut down operations and lay off workers not technically on strike, making them eligible for unemployment benefits instead of strike benefits and preserve the union’s finances.
The Epoch Times reached out to the UAW and Ford for comment.

Autoworkers and Big Three Fail to Reach an Agreement

Mr. Fain called the Big Three's offer to give all 146,000 UAW members pay raises, as high as 17.5–20 percent over the four and a half years during the life of the contract, inadequate.

The automakers responded that union leaders failed to formally respond to their more generous recent offers.

Last week, the UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing GM and Stellantis of failing to respond to their proposals and of unfair bargaining.

The union had initially demanded a 40 percent increase in wages over four years, in proportion to the increase in the automakers' CEO pay, which has surged since 2019.

“For the last 40 years, the billionaire class has been taking everything and leaving everybody else to fight for the scraps,” said Mr. Fain, adding, “we are not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”

The UAW also is demanding regular cost-of-living adjustments so workers' wages can keep up with current inflation.

The union is also calling for new pensions for workers, improved retiree benefits, shorter work hours, and an end to the tiered wage system for new hires, who earn 50 percent of the top union wage at $32 an hour when they start.

Meanwhile, the Big Three are investing tens of billions of dollars to build new electric vehicle (EV) and battery plants while retooling older factories to produce the new non-gas-powered models.

These investments are concerning the union, which is worried about the potential loss of jobs as a result of the transition to EVs, which have less parts and require fewer workers to produce.

The new battery plants are being constructed in partnerships, which are not automatically covered by the UAW contract.

However, workers at one GM battery plant in Ohio voted to join the union and are negotiating a separate contract with the car manufacturer.

Detroit Automakers Call for a Deal

“We continue to bargain directly and in good faith with the UAW and have presented additional strong offers. We are making progress in key areas that we believe are most important to our represented team members," David Barnas, a General Motors spokesman, told The Epoch Times.

"This includes historic guaranteed annual wage increases, investments in our U.S. manufacturing plants to provide opportunities for all, and shortening the time for in-progression employees to reach maximum wages.”

Ann Marie Fortunate, a Stellantis spokeswoman, told The Epoch Times that “we’re still awaiting the UAW’s response to the offer we presented yesterday.”
“Our focus remains on bargaining in good faith to have a tentative agreement on the table before the collective bargaining agreement expires.”

Ford CEO Jim Farley released a statement informing the union that “we are here and ready to reach a deal. We should be working creatively to solve hard problems rather than planning strikes and PR events.”

"The future of our industry is at stake. Let’s do everything we can to avert a disastrous outcome,” he pleaded.

A UAW strike lasting 10 days could cost carmakers, suppliers, and workers more than $5 billion in losses, according to an estimate by the Anderson Economic Group, leading to a potential disruption of the auto supplier network.

This week, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein urged both parties to stay at the table and agree to "a win-win agreement that keeps UAW workers at the heart of our auto future."

Targeted Strike Brings Risks to Workers

The UAW chief also told members to stay on the job, even if their plant was not chosen for a strike, to give union negotiators greater leverage at the bargaining table.

“This is going to create confusion for the companies. It’s going to turbo charge the power of our negotiators,” Mr. Fain said.

“I know there’s a hunger to [have all members] go on strike. That may still happen. This was not done on a whim.”

The targeted strikes could also come with risk, as those remaining on the job will be working under an expired contract because the UAW refused to offer an extension to any of the manufacturers facing a strike.

None of the automakers are obligated to pay employees working under an expired contract.

Reuters contributed to this report.
Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry. He graduated from Binghamton University.