Why are auto workers going on strike? What do UAW members want?
The deadline for negotiations has ended and thousands of workers are on strike in the biggest automotive strike action in nearly 90 years.
Automotive workers in the US have begun huge strike action against the ‘Detroit Three,’ General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (once known as Chrysler).
Talks to find an agreement between the United Automotive Workers (UAW) union and the companies ended on Thursday night without an agreement being found. 13,000 workers have begun the strike with the first plants affected being GM’s Wentzville assembly plant, Stellantis’ Toledo assembly complex, and the Ford Michigan assembly plant. In total, the UAW represents some 146,000 workers.
“If the companies continue to bargain in bad faith … then our strikes are going to continue to grow … We’re going to hit where we need to hit,” UAW President Shawn Fain said Wednesday during a Facebook Live event.
It is a testimony to the powers of unions at this moment that they feel confident enough to take on America’s largest companies. The UAW action comes at the same time as the writers and actors strike in Hollywood that has postponed the release of many films for the rest of this year, including the hotly anticipated Dune part two.
Jeff Schuster, head of automotive for the Global Data research firm, said the strikes are very serious and could go on for a long time.
“This one feels like there’s a lot more at risk here on both sides,” he said.
More than one million people work in the US automotive sector according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning the strikes will put the pressure on a wide range of companies and not just the Detroit Three.
What do UAW members want?
Fain said the Detroit Three automakers had offered the 146,000 autoworkers pay raises of as much as 20% over four and a half years; these were refused as inadequate.
His union argues that this figure should be closer to 46% over the same time period, increasing pay to $47 an hour. Other demands are reduced work hours with full pay, an end to tiered wages for factory jobs, and the reinstatement of traditional pensions which workers who joined after 2007 don’t receive.
“We didn’t want to be here. We want a fair agreement. We want fair economic and social justice for our members. That’s what this is all about. And it’s a shame,” Fain said on the picket line in Michigan.
The three companies argue that the demands are too great. However, the union says there is plenty of money to go around after the companies posted net income of $164 billion over the last ten years. The CEOs are paid tens of millions of dollars a year.
Job security is another demand by the UAW. Stellantis is set to close half its US factories which would mean mass layoffs. The union won’t accept this lightly.