Jonathan M. Gitlin
Almost 13,000 workers are on strike at three US car factories today after a midnight deadline came and went without an agreement between the United Auto Workers and Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. It’s the first time in the UAW’s history that it has initiated strike action at all of the Big Three domestic car companies simultaneously, as negotiations on a new contract failed.
UAW’s strike action has been narrowly targeted. Although the union represents about 146,000 members, most of them are staying at their jobs. But 5,800 Stellantis workers at the company’s Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, are now on strike, as are 3,600 GM workers at a plant in Wentzville, Missouri, plus 3,300 at Ford’s factory in Wayne, Michigan.
The union and automakers had been trying to reach a compromise before the 4-year-old contract between them expired on Thursday night. Among other things, the union has been looking to end the tiered pay structure in the industry where new hires into a job earn less. It is also seeking the restoration of cost-of-living increases and an end to automakers subverting union jobs with temporary workers.
Ford, GM, and Stellantis responded to some of those demands but fell far short of others, including a 36 percent pay raise spread over four years and a return to defined-benefit pensions. In a statement, Ford said that “the proposal would more than double Ford’s current UAW-related labor costs, which are already significantly higher than the labor costs of Tesla, Toyota, and other foreign-owned automakers in the United States that utilize non-union-represented labor.”
UAW President Shawn Fain rejected that claim, telling CNN that “[t]he cost of labor for a vehicle is 5 percent of the vehicle. They could double our wages and not raise the prices of vehicles, and they would still make billions of dollars. It’s a lie like everything else that comes out of their mouths.”
It’s also about EVs
The ongoing switch to electric vehicles factors in to this union fight. As Ford’s statement notes, Tesla—which is responsible for more than 60 percent of all new EV sales in the US—uses non-union labor. And as we saw from Ford’s financial results earlier this year, investing in EV production means a lot of red ink on the balance sheet.
The union is not opposed to electrification, but it doesn’t want workers exploited in the process. In a 2021 white paper, the UAW wrote that, “[w]hereas traditional powertrains have often been made by automakers themselves and created quality union jobs, EV batteries are mostly made by suppliers in other countries, with China in the lead. And where automakers are entering battery production, they are doing so through joint ventures with battery companies that have an unknown track record on providing quality jobs.”
That same year, a bill introduced into the US House of Representatives would have created a $4,500 tax credit specifically for EVs built in unionized US facilities, but that measure did not survive the legislative process.
As a result of the strike, there will be production disruptions for GM’s midsize trucks and full-size vans, the Ford Ranger and Bronco, and the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator models.