What is happening in Michigan, who has visited the the UAW strike picket line and what are their demands?
UAW strikes are taking place across Michigan, long seen as the center of the US auto industry. What are strikers demanding?
The great state of Michigan has long been seen as the center of the US auto industry. The birthplace of Ford and General Motors, the auto industry has shaped the state’s culture, with the United Auto Workers, the union representing many of those employed by these companies, playing a significant role in that effort.
The UAW came under new leadership in March 2023, with members electing Shawn Fain as UAW President. Fain channeled the frustration of many members who believed that the union had used its political power in their name to curry favors with government officials and private sector executives. The dealings of the former UAW leadership landed two former presidents and two former vice presidents in prison on charges related to corruption and racketeering by the US Department of Justice.
The election of Shawn Fain was seen by many UAW members as a new page in the union’s history. The theory that change was coming would be proven true earlier this month when the UAW announced it would be striking the ‘Big Three’ US auto manufacturers, Ford, GM, and Stellantis. Now, workers across the country, including Michigan, are on strike, demanding improved pay and better working conditions for both union and non-union workers.
Who has visited the picket line in Michigan?
As the historic capital of the US auto industry, President Biden visited Detriot on Tuesday to show solidarity with workers. During his remarks, the president spoke about the sacrifices made by workers during the Great Recession and that workers should share in the record profits being generated across the industry.
“Folks, stick with it, because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits. Let’s get back what we lost,” argued President Biden to a cheering crowd.
Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Talib was one of the first federal elected officials to voice her support for UAW members and was present with Shawn Fain and Congresswoman Debby Dingell to greet Presidnet Biden when he landed in Detroit earlier this week.
Before Presidnet Biden made his trip to Detriot, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had visited the picket line and given a speech to striking workers.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has stood with workers at the picket line as well, sending a message of solidarity and hopes that the dispute could be resolved quickly.
Republicans in Michigan have not outwardly said they disagree with the strikes, but they have side-stepped the issue by accusing the governor’s energy policy of making the state an uncompetitive location for business.
What demands are being made by striking workers?
The demands being made by UAW members can be divided into three broad categories: Improved workplace culture, fair pay and benefits, and protections against outsourcing.
Improved workplace culture
Like the UPS Teamsters who nearly went on strike this summer, the UAW is demanding the tier system in Big Three factories be eliminated. The tier system allows the companies to have union and non-union workers doing the same job but earning different pay. Additionally, the UAW would like protections implemented to protect temporary workers, some of whom have been on temporary contracts for years, allowing the companies to fire them at will.
Fair pay and benefits
Regarding pay, the UAW is demanding double-digit pay rises, citing the forty percent increases seen by corporate executives. “We know our members are worth the same and more,” argues the UAW. To ensure those pay rises keep pace with inflation, workers insist that a cost-of-living adjustment be negotiated into their contracts.
As concerns over the solvency of Social Security continue to grow, the UAW would like to see a defined benefit pension for all workers, an increase in pay for retirees, and re-establish medical benefits for retirees.
Protections against outsourcing
The threat of outsourcing has long loomed over the heads of workers at these companies. The UAW is demanding that workers be granted the right to strike if a Big Three company chooses to close a plant.
In cases where plants are shut, the UAW is demanding that the company be forced to pay members to do community service if they lose their jobs. This demand aims to disincentivize outsourcing.