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UAW threatens to expand strike if talks don’t yield progress soon

UAW President Shawn Fain marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit after a rally Friday in support of United Auto Workers members as they strike the Big Three automakers.  (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images )
By Aaron Gregg Washington Post

The United Auto Workers threatened to expand its historic strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers Friday unless “serious progress” is made toward an agreement.

In a video posted late Monday, UAW President Shawn Fain gave General Motors, Ford and Stellantis until noon Friday, which will mark a week since the union began strikes at three factories – one at each company.

The union is seeking a large wage increase, expanded benefits and more job protections as the industry shifts toward electric vehicles, a transition that potentially includes further plant closures.

“We’re going to keep hitting the company where we need to, when we need to,” Fain said. “And we’re not going to keep waiting around forever while they drag this out.”

Fain did not say which factories would join the strike. He also did not specify what would constitute “serious progress,” stopping short of saying that tentative agreements would be needed to avoid additional strikes.

The current walkouts affect a GM van and truck factory in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio, that produces the company’s Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator; and a Wayne, Michigan, Ford plant that makes the Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV.

The UAW strike comes as Canada’s main autoworker union, Unifor, is also threatening to strike against Ford.

In the early-morning hours Tuesday, Unifor said it was extending contract negotiations with Ford by 24 hours after receiving a “substantive offer from the employer minutes before the deadline.”

It told its members to “maintain strike readiness.”

Hours before the strike deadline Monday, Unifor President Lana Payne said if a strike happens, it will involve all of Ford’s 5,600 autoworkers in Canada.

A Ford engine plant in Windsor, Ontario, makes engines for the company’s highly profitable F-series trucks.

“Ours is a small but highly consequential footprint for Ford operations in North America. And this is our leverage. And we will use it,” Payne said Monday, before receiving Ford’s latest offer.

The union is also bargaining with GM and Stellantis but has extended its existing contracts with those companies for the moment to focus on talks with Ford.

In the United States, the UAW and the automakers remain far apart on terms for a new four-year contract.

The union has been seeking a 36% wage increase over four years; the automakers are offering about 20%.

The existing tiered pay structure for workers also remains a sore point, with newer employees earning worse wages and benefits, or being stuck in temporary employment status for years.

The companies have made some concessions, offering to shorten the time it takes workers to reach the top wage rate and proposing raising starting wages for temporary worker by 20%, to $20 an hour.

But they have not conceded to all of the union’s demands.

After Fain’s remarks late Monday, Ford said it has given significant ground in the talks and remains focused on getting a deal.

In addition to 20% wage hikes over four years, Ford is offering some cost-of-living adjustments to wages, increased contributions to workers’ retirement savings and more paid time off.

Giving in to all of the union’s demands “would wipe out billions of dollars of profitability that is essential to investing in our future,” Ford said.

General Motors said in a statement Tuesday that it is “continuing to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members, customers, suppliers and communities across the U.S.”

About 12,700 workers are striking – roughly 8% of the 150,000 autoworkers on UAW rosters.

This marks the first time in the union’s history in which it has staged a walkout against all of the Big Three at the same time.

The union’s “Stand Up Strike” approach differs from how unions typically stage strikes.

Instead of striking all available plants at once, the union is picking specific locals to go on strike while other unionized workers stay on the job, a strategy designed to keep the companies guessing, the UAW says.

The union is paying striking workers $500 a week out of its strike fund. It has hoped to make that $825 million fund last longer by targeting only certain plants for strikes.

But GM and Ford scrambled that plan last week by announcing that they will temporarily lay off 2,600 workers at nonstriking factories because those plants depend on work from striking facilities.

The UAW has said it will use its strike fund to pay those workers $500 a week.

The strike, especially if it expands, could have lasting economic repercussions: UAW workers produce nearly half of the light vehicles manufactured in the United States, according to GlobalData.