The UAW initiates an unprecedented strike against the three major automakers
A groundbreaking strike has commenced at the Detroit Three automakers. It marks the first instance where the United Auto Workers union simultaneously strikes against all Big Three automakers due to the failure to secure a new contract by the Thursday 11:59 p.m. deadline.
However, it's important to note that not all of the nearly 150,000 union members employed by these three automakers will engage in a mass walkout. Instead, the initial wave of strikes involves workers at three Midwest auto plants: a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and a section of a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan. This strategic move aligns with UAW President Shawn Fain's "stand up strike" approach.
Currently, the strike encompasses slightly under 13,000 workers, representing less than 9% of the UAW membership across the three companies. However, additional locations could swiftly join the strike, contingent on the progress of negotiations with the companies. This strategy is designed to heighten pressure on the companies by maintaining an element of unpredictability regarding the extent of operational disruption.
UAW President Shawn Fain emphasized the significance of this moment during a Facebook Live event on Thursday night, stating, "This is our generation's defining moment. The resources are available, the cause is just, and the world is closely observing."
These targeted strikes deviate from the traditional UAW playbook, which typically involved a complete union walkout at a single company. Furthermore, the UAW's decision to negotiate with all three automakers concurrently represents a departure from past practices. While the current strategy focuses on individual negotiations, Fain has not ruled out the possibility of eventually having all union members at the Big Three automakers stage a collective walkout.
A Bold Approach:
In his role as the first democratically elected UAW leader, Shawn Fain, a seasoned union member, has adopted a more confrontational negotiation style than his predecessors. He even filmed himself discarding proposals from the Big Three automakers.
Fain has consistently advocated for the union's key economic demands, which include a 40% salary increase to align with CEO earnings, reinstating pension and retiree healthcare benefits, and adjusting for the cost of living. He asserts that the Big Three can readily meet these demands.
He's been critical of past UAW leaders, accusing them of negotiating deals that didn't prioritize the 150,000 union members working in these companies. The aftermath of concessions made during the 2008 financial crisis continues to impact workers, a significant factor in this year's negotiations.
Under Fain's leadership, the UAW has tied its demands to the automakers' substantial profits, as well as addressing pay disparities between executives and rank-and-file union members. These automakers have experienced surging profits during the pandemic due to factors like parts shortages and increased car prices.
During a recent Facebook Live event, Fain highlighted the staggering 65% profit surge by the automakers over four years, in stark contrast to the meager 6% pay increase for autoworkers during the same period.
Adding complexity to the negotiations is the auto industry's shift toward electric vehicles. The UAW is advocating for worker protections as companies invest more in EV production, raising concerns about the future of traditional auto jobs.
A prolonged strike could potentially impact the U.S. economy, with a six-week strike involving all 150,000 UAW auto union members estimated to shave 0.2% off the fourth-quarter GDP. While this impact isn't substantial on its own, the economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience in recent times.