Members of the United Auto Workers on strike outside the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant on Sept. 25, 2019, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (far left) in Detroit.
Michael Wayland | CNBC
DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union appears poised to take a hard line when it comes to national negotiations this year with Detroit automakers, warning of strikes or work stoppages if necessary.
UAW leaders publicly laid out their top bargaining issues Wednesday night, including restoring the cost-of-living adjustment that was eliminated during the Great Recession; greater job security; and the end of the incremental or differential pay system where members receive different wages and benefits.
UAW President Sean Fein said “the union will not accept any concessions” from General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis – high mission in such negotiations.
Contract negotiations between the union and the automakers typically begin in earnest in July before the previous four-year agreements expire in mid-September. Typically, one of the three automakers is the lead or target company that the union chooses to negotiate with first, and the others extend their terms. Fein, however, said this year could be different, without going into specifics.
The union leaders, led by Fein, are largely newly elected officials who ran on platforms of opposing the companies and reforming the organization after a long-running federal corruption scandal that in part involved previous negotiations.
UAW leaders also discussed the record profits of the Detroit automakers, known as the Big Three, in recent years, while raising the possibility of a strike if their demands are not met.
GM and Stellantis declined to comment on City Hall. Ford did not immediately respond.
UAW President Sean Fein chairs the 2023 Special Election Collective Bargaining Convention in Detroit, March 27, 2023.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
“I want to be clear on this, and I know this may sound crazy, but the choice of whether or not to strike is up to the Big Three,” UAW Secretary-Treasurer Margaret Mock said during a virtual union town hall that was broadcast online . “We are clear about what we want.
Labor strikes can be costly and deplete vehicle inventories. A 40-day strike against GM during the last round of negotiations four years ago cost GM about $3.6 billion in 2019, including $2.6 billion in earnings before interest and taxes in the fourth quarter of that year.
Strikes can take several forms: a national strike in which all contract workers stop work, or targeted stoppages at specific plants due to local contract issues.
The company’s demands, the strike rhetoric and the town hall — titled “Back in the Fight: Our Generation’s Defining Moment in the Big Three” — run counter to historic union practices. Past union leaders have sent similar messages, but usually not as confrontationally or publicly before the talks.
“Here’s what you can expect from us: No more backroom haggling,” Fein said Wednesday. “We’re going to have national days of action at plants across the country … showing companies that we’re not playing around, that we’re serious.”
Wall Street analysts noted the possibility of a strike as well as increased labor costs as headwinds this year for Detroit automakers.
The transition to electric cars was another major topic of discussion Wednesday night, particularly over job security (the vehicles are expected to require less labor) and over the organization of critical US battery plants that are in the early stages of production or under construction.
Fein also called out the White House, without specifically naming President Joe Biden. The union last month said it would withhold Biden’s re-endorsement until the UAW’s concerns about the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles are addressed.
“We need to let everyone know — from the White House to the House to our local labor council — that if you’re with us, we’re with you,” Fein said Wednesday. “Our fight is everyone’s fight.”
Speaking against a backdrop of American-made vehicles and a UAW sign, President Joe Biden talks about new proposals to protect US jobs during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, September 9, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters