UAW Sets New Deadline to Escalate Strike If No Breakthrough in Talks

The UAW has set a new deadline of noon on Friday, Sept. 22, for expanding its strikes at Detroit's Big Three if there's no "serious progress" in talks.
UAW Sets New Deadline to Escalate Strike If No Breakthrough in Talks
United Auto Workers (UAW) president Shawn Fain speaks with members of the media and members of the UAW outside of the UAW Local 900 headquarters across the street from the Ford Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 15, 2023. (Matthew Hatcher/AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Ozimek

The United Auto Workers (UAW) and Detroit's Big Three automakers remained far apart in talks on a new round of four-year labor contracts on Wednesday, as union leaders set a tight Friday deadline for "serious progress" in negotiations or they'll expand the strike with new work stoppages.

There was no sign of a breakthrough in talks on Wednesday between representatives of the UAW and Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. The automakers seemed to become increasingly vocal in their reluctance to accept the union's eye-watering demands for a 40-percent or so pay hike.

"The fundamental reality is that the UAW’s demands can be described in one word—untenable," GM President Mark Reuss said in an op-ed published in the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday. "As the past has clearly shown, nobody wins in a strike. We have delivered a record offer. That is a fact."

The Big Three automakers have proposed roughly 20 percent pay increases over the four-year term of their proposals, which is around half of what the UAW is demanding.

With a big gap remaining between what's being offered by the automakers and what's being demanded by the union, frustration seemed to be setting in deeper on both sides.

UAW President Shawn Fain issued a warning that if there's no significant breakthrough in talks by a Friday noon deadline, the union will expand its strike to include more plants.

The Epoch Times has reached out to the Big Three with a request for comment on the UAW's deadline.

A Stellantis spokesperson replied, saying that the company remains "committed to continuing to bargain in good faith to reach a tentative agreement that better positions our business to meet the challenges of the U.S. marketplace and secures the future for our employees."

"In our view, a strike does not benefit anyone–our customers, our dealers, the community and, most importantly, our employees. We look forward to getting everyone back to work as soon as possible," the spokesperson added.

The other automakers did not respond by publication time.

 United Auto Workers hold up strike signs right across from the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 15, 2023. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
United Auto Workers hold up strike signs right across from the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 15, 2023. (Reuters/Rebecca Cook)

Glimmer of Hope?

Stellantis on Wednesday provided a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough in talks by giving the union a new proposal, though a spokeswoman for the company told The Associated Press that the offer mostly covered non-economic issues.

It was not immediately clear whether the new offer would satisfy Mr. Fain, who in a recent video message expressed frustration at the deadlock and sought to inject a sense of urgency into the negotiations.

"I'm going to be crystal clear again right now," Mr. Fain said in the video. "If we don't make serious progress by noon, on Friday, September 22, more locals will be called on to stand up and join the strike."

The UAW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Stellantis's latest offer.

Jeep-maker Stellantis said in a statement on Wednesday that it expects to lay off over 300 workers in Ohio and Indiana because of “storage constraints” caused by the UAW strike at its assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.

About 12,700 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union walked off the job last week at three plants in what Mr. Fain called a limited "Stand Up" strike that has targeted facilities with lower profit margins rather than the automakers' cash cows.

The strikes have halted production at facilities in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri that produce the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler, and Chevrolet Colorado.

Analysts expect plants that build more profitable pickup trucks, such Ford's F-150, GM's Chevy Silverado, and Stellantis's Ram, to be the next targets if the two sides can't find common ground and as Mr. Fain's Friday's deadline looms large.

'Maximum Leverage'

The UAW has warned that more locals could get called on to join the strike if there's no progress, while describing its limited labor action as one that "gives us maximum leverage and maximum flexibility" as it fights for terms that are the most ambitious in decades.
The union opened negotiations with a demand for a 46 percent pay boost over the duration of a new four-year contract, contrasting that with the 6 percent raises autoworkers have received since their last contract in 2019.
The UAW has since lowered its demands—first to 40 percent and, now, the figure being thrown around is 36 percent.

In addition to higher pay, the UAW is also pushing for a 32-hour work week with 40 hours of pay, elimination of compensation tiers, restoration of defined benefit pensions, cost-of-living adjustments, and stronger job security as automakers increasingly shift to electric vehicles.

“I know that our demands are ambitious, but I’ve told the companies repeatedly I’m not the reason that members’ expectations are so high,” Mr. Fain said earlier this month. “What’s driving members’ expectations are the Big Three’s profits.”
Since 2019, annual gross profits have risen by 34 percent at Ford and 50 percent at GM, while Stellantis saw its annual gross profit increase by 19 percent from 2021 to 2022.

Contract proposals made by UAW so far would add roughly $80 billion in labor costs over four years for the Big Three automakers, according to Kristin Dziczek, automotive policy advisor for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

A 10-day strike by the UAW could cost manufacturers, workers, suppliers, and dealers more than $5 billion, according to an analysis by consulting firm Anderson Economic Group.

In interviews and statements to media outlets, the carmakers said they continue to bargain in good faith and want to settle the strike without it escalating.

A number of analysts have said they expect the UAW strike to be long-lasting.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
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