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Everything you need to know about the UAW workers strike

The standoff between the Big 3 and the UAW continues, where negotiations stand and all you need to know about the strike.

The standoff between the Big 3 and the UAW continues, where negotiations stand and all you need to know about the strike.

Many questions are circulating around the United Auto Worker’s ‘Stand Up Strike’ that began last week. Union members of the ‘Big 3′ automotive companies, Ford, GM, and Stelantis, are currently working without a contract as negotiations continue between union leaders and corporate executives.

The UAW faced a series of public relations disasters in 2020 after the Justice Department charged various leaders and automotive bosses with corruption-related charges, including tax evasion and racketeering. The federal agency required the UAW to hold a referendum asking members if they wanted to adopt new voting rules, allowing them to elect their leaders directly. The measure was approved, and elections were held in March 2023. Shawn Fain was elected UAW President against incumbent Ray Curry, and with Fain running on a much more militant platform, the win was seen by many members as a pivotal moment in the union’s history.

Why are UAW members striking?

When contract negotiations between the UAW and ‘Big 3′ began to falter, the union called for a strike authorization vote in August, which was approved by a whopping ninety-seven percent. After the authorization, Fain stated that the union was not interested in extending the current contract, and UAW leadership was evaluating their “options” if an agreement was not reached by 14 September.

The UAW President has reiterated on multiple occasions that he and his members are “fed up with the status quo” and that workers are looking for their share of the record profits their labor helps to generate. Over the last four years, the three companies have increased spending on stock buybacks by over one thousand percent, while UAW members have only seen wages rise around six percent. For union members, the fact that CEO pay has increased by an average of forty percent has motivated them to demand similar increases.

When did the strike begin?

A new contract was not approved by the deadline, and the first workers were called to strike at midnight on 15 September. Since the strike began, Democratic leaders have been quick to show their support. On Friday, President Biden made short remarks from the White House, saying that he agreed that the record profits made by the Big 3 had not been “shared fairly” with workers. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT-I) visited Michigan this weekend to speak at a UAW rally, telling corporate leaders that it was time to sit down and negotiate a fair contract.

What are workers demanding?

The demands being made by the union are sweeping and cover both pay and conditions. For the UAW, the strike is about much more than bigger paychecks and is centered on creating a more prosperous workplace for members and non-members. The first step for the union is eliminating the tier system that allows companies to forbid some workers from joining the union to keep labor costs down. UPS Teamsters were able to negotiate an end to their tier system this summer, and the UAW hopes to accomplish the same goal.

As far as pay is concerned, members have proposed an increase of around forty percent over the next four years that the companies apply a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to pay to support employees during times of high inflation. For retirement, the union demands that all workers receive a defined benefit pension and that medical care for retirees be re-established as a benefit.

Some of the more novel demands relate to the transition to a four-day workweek, expanded leave programs for families, and a stipulation that if a plant closes, that companies would be required to pay former workers to do community service.

What offers have been made by the Big 3?

So far, the Big 3 have offered wage increases of around twenty percent over the life of the contract. Ford and Stellantis have agreed to implement a COLA to ensure worker pay keeps pace with inflation. Ford has also offered five weeks of paid leave and seventeen paid holidays.

The two sides remain far apart on nearly every demand being made, and GM and Ford have announced that layoffs may begin as production is disrupted by the strike. Layoffs of non-union members are one way companies can limit solidarity between workers but also motivate those on strike who feel even more pressure to stand up for the unprotected workers they work side-by-side with on the factory floor.

Which plants are striking?

So far, the three sites employing around 13,000 workers that have been called on to strike are the Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, the GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, and the Stellantis plant in Toledo. The UAW has taken a new approach to this labor action by only selecting a few plants at a time to strike. This strategy keeps executives guessing and allows the union’s leverage to be exploited at its full potential. The Stand-Up strike, as it is being called by the UAW, gets its name from how workers are being called upon to participate. If one’s chapter is called to go on strike, those workers are told to “Stand-Up.” The name also ties the labor action to the past, when sitdown strikes, like that carried out by UAW members in 1937, helped to improve working conditions across industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Will more plants be called on to strike?

Fain said on Face the Nation on Sunday that if the union “doesn’t get a better offer” and those received do meet the needs of UAW members, the union is “prepared to amp” up their efforts.

If new UAW chapters are not called on to strike, it could be a sign that negotiations are progressing at a pace the union’s leadership is comfortable with.


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