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UAW will widen strike against GM and Stellantis but not Ford

UAW members are shown on a picket line at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio on September 18.  (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg)
By Jeanne Whalen, Lauren Kaori Gurley and Jeff Stein Washington Post

The United Auto Workers on Friday widened its strike against General Motors and Jeep-maker Stellantis out of frustration over contract talks but did not target more Ford locations because it said negotiations with the company are progressing.

The union said it walked out of 38 GM and Stellantis parts distribution centers in 20 states just after noon.

UAW President Shawn Fain said the aim is to “shut down parts distribution until those two companies come to their senses and come to the table with a serious offer.”

The warehouses send parts to dealerships and others for vehicle repairs. The UAW shared videos on social media of newly striking workers chanting “No pay, no parts!”

Speaking alongside striking workers at a Stellantis warehouse in Center Line, Michigan, Fain said the distribution centers “generate a lot of profits, especially for Stellantis.”

Fain said the union will not widen the strike against Ford for now because Ford has made further concessions, and negotiations are progressing.

He said Ford had agreed to reinstate cost-of-living adjustments to wages and offer new protections against plant closures.

The union is continuing its current strike against one Ford factory in Michigan, however.

Fain also publicly invited everyone, “all the way up to the president of the United States,” to come to the picket line during the Facebook Live event.

The president is already considering a trip to the picket line under pressure from Michigan Democrats.

Donald Trump, Biden’s likely 2024 presidential rival, has announced he will hold a rally in Detroit next week during the second GOP primary debate.

Trump has not said whether he will attempt to join the picket line, but Fain has been clear that the former GOP president would not be welcome there.

Until Friday the strike had targeted just one factory at each company, in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. Those plants assemble well-known vehicles including the Ford Bronco, the Chevrolet Colorado and the Jeep Wrangler.

The broadened strike dramatically increases the footprint of the work stoppage but at a different kind of facility.

The GM and Stellantis warehouses are located in cities across the nation: Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Orlando, Boston, Reno and beyond.

An expanded work stoppage over wages and benefits will exacerbate disruptions to an industry that makes up about 3% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Ford said in a statement it is working “diligently with the UAW to reach a deal that rewards our workforce and enables Ford to invest in a vibrant and growing future.”

It added: “Although we are making progress in some areas, we still have significant gaps to close on the key economic issues. In the end, the issues are interconnected and must work within an overall agreement that supports our mutual success.”

GM called the strike escalation “unnecessary” and accused union leaders of “manipulating the bargaining process for their own personal agendas.”

“We have now presented five separate economic proposals that are historic,” the company said. “We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”

The company added it has contingency plans for helping customers and dealers.

Stellantis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment but has previously said it is working hard to win a deal.

About 13,000 of the union’s 150,000 autoworkers walked off the job last week at the three plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.

The union is seeking a 36% wage increase over four years, improved retirement benefits and more paid time off.

It also wants more job protections as the industry transitions toward producing electric vehicles, a shift that potentially includes plant closures.

The automakers are offering raises of around 20% over four years and other perks that they say constitute their best offers to the union in decades.

They argue they can’t meet all of the UAW demands and remain viable companies capable of investing in the new factories needed for the costly transition to electric vehicles.

Fain said Ford has made important new concessions in recent days, including agreeing to reinstate the cost-of-living adjustments to wages that the union lost around the time of the Great Recession.

“Many people said this couldn’t be done, and we just did it,” Fain said.

Ford has also agreed to let workers strike over any plant closures during the life of the next contract – a concession that no automaker has allowed before, Fain said.

“I don’t have to tell you that this is an important victory in our fight to save our jobs, keep families together, to keep our communities from being gutted,” he said.

UAW officials previously communicated to the Biden administration that a Biden visit to the picket line would be welcome, but they had not formally invited the president to attend.

Union leadership had been frustrated by Biden’s announcement last week that the White House was dispatching two aides to the talks – a trip that was later canceled after the UAW leadership told the administration to either join the picket line or not come at all.