TOLEDO, Ohio – United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on Saturday warned autoworkers on strike not to let messaging from the Detroit Three automakers give up their fight for “justice.”
“They’re trying to cause doubt between the membership and the leadership,” Fain told picketers at Stellantis NV’s Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator plant in Toledo on their 16th day of being on strike. “They’re trying to cause division. This is how they operate. This is how people in power operate. We try to divide everybody so they can get done what they want to get done. … What they’re saying is complete bull——, and it’s not going to work.We’re smarter than that.”
Fain joined Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, for several hours on Saturday afternoon, moving from gate to gate at the plant while meeting with members. Fain’s remarks came after Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley said the Detroit-based union was holding an agreement “hostage” over not-yet-open electric-vehicle battery plants and General Motors Co. CEO Marry Barra, in a statement, accused the union of having “no real intent” to make a deal.
The union says it’s seeking a record deal in response to record profits made by the automakers, demanding concessions made in 2007 and ’09 amid an economic downturn and bankruptcies at GM and Chrysler LLC, like cost-of-living adjustments, a shorter timetable to get to the top wage and the jobs bank be implemented. The companies say they already are offering record proposals and must remain competitive with nonunionized foreign manufacturers.
Fain said although progress has been made, “it’s nowhere near where we need to be.” He highlighted retirement security, post-retirement health care and job security in the transition to EVs as key issues.
”These freaking CEOs want to sit here and piss and moan and cry about how we’re trying to hold them hostage,” Fain said. “We’re not holding nobody hostage. They made this decision. They chose to screw around for seven weeks.”
The union put forward its economic demands, which it calls its “members’ demand” the week of July 30. A month later, Ford was the first to respond to those demands. GM and Stellantis responded after the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint against them, which has since been withdrawn.
The autoworkers at Toledo are some of the members who have been on strike the longest – since the earliest hours of Sept. 15. The union on Friday expanded its strike against General Motors and Ford Motor to two midsize SUV plants, adding 7,000 members to bring the total on strike to 25,300 of roughly 146,000 UAW members at the Detroit Three.
Despite entering a third week of the strike, picketers mostly were jovial, waving American and UAW flags, chatting and laughing and driving golf carts between gates. In contrast to the initial walkout, tents had been set up outside the fence around the plant, and there were supplies of snacks and water.
“We’re here for the long haul,” said Kristin Meridieth, 35, of Sylvania, Ohio. “It’s for pensions, COLA, retirement benefits. A wage increase is nice, but I’m more interested in long term.”
Joshua Daniels, 37, of Toledo has made it a tradition for each strike shift to wear a new mask to gain attention. After a ferocious bear and a skeleton-like mouse the previous two weeks, Daniels donned a joker mask during Fain’s visit on Saturday. He said he already had one planned for week four.
“We have no doubts,” he said. “We might have some doubts with them, the car makers. But we have no doubts, not with us. We’re here to fight for what we deserve.”
In response to the criticisms from the auto executives that Fain hasn’t taken the negotiations seriously with TV and media appearances, he called their complaints “a joke” and “pathetic.”
He said Barra has been at about three meetings since mid-July, and Farley has been at about four. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, who is based in Europe, hasn’t attended a single meeting.
”My a – has been at the bargaining table every day,” he said. “I’ve been there every d- – day. Our committees have been there every day. Your vice presidents have been there every day.”
Even with Fain’s trip to the strike line about an hour outside Detroit, Fain said, “I’m available today. I was in my office at nine o’clock this morning, waiting. They didn’t want to meet. This is a false narrative they keep putting out that they that we’re not willing to meet. We have been there every day. I can leave right now and go back and bargain if they wanted to. My phone ain’t ringing.”
On Friday, a last-minute memo from Stellantis NV spared the company from facing a strike expansion. The memo agreed to the 2009 cost-of-living adjustments formula, the right for UAW members not to cross picket lines, the right to strike over product allocations and plant closures, and an outsourcing moratorium.
Meanwhile, the workers at GM’s Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant that makes the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave and Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant that makes the Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and police interceptors joined UAW members on strike at Ford’s Bronco and Ranger plant in Wayne, Michigan, Stellantis’ Toledo plant, GM’s Wentzville, Missouri, midsize pickup truck and full-size commercial van plant outside St. Louis, and GM and Stellantis’ 38 parts distribution centers across the country.
The ability to add plants based on progress or a lack thereof at the bargaining table is part of the UAW’s “stand-up strike” strategy. It gives the union leverage to pull unexpected walkouts, though it also leaves members with uncertainty as well as the industry’s supply chain. It additionally conserves the union’s Strike and Defense Fund that sat at $825 million prior to the strike on the Detroit Three and pays $500 weekly to workers on strike and those laid off by the automakers.
The “stand-up strike” is similar to AFA’s “Chaos” strike against Alaska Airlines in 1993. The union, starting in May of that year, temporarily struck a limited number of seemingly random flights, a strategy that was held up in a federal court ruling that December. Two weeks later, there was a deal offering higher pay, despite only 24 of 1,500 flight attendants striking on seven flights over several months.
“It goes back to when we look back to our history, our roots as the sit-down strikers,” Fain said about the strategy. “But AFA led the way in the ‘90s. … They’ve led the way, showing new techniques and stuff, and so, hell yeah, their chaos strike that they enacted in the ‘90s was sure as hell a good path, and we feed off each other. That’s what labor should do.”
Although there hasn’t been a campaign like the one seen in 1992 by AFA, Nelson says that strategy is in the minds of airline executives in every negotiation.
“These executives not only want money, they want control, and they lose control when they don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “In our case, in the airline industry, it made bookings go down because people who might have charged through a picket line to get a flight were not willing to take the chance that their flight might be chosen. So, it’s the element of surprise, which the UAW has incorporated here, and also being able to apply the pressure where it’s going to hurt the most. You get to decide that, and that’s what they’ve been doing with their Friday morning announcements. It worked this week with Stellantis.”
Autoworkers aren’t the only ones on strike or facing such potential action. Detroit casino workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Friday overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if necessary in their negotiations. UAW-represented Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan workers in Detroit also remain on strike.
More than 100 union workers at ZF Chassis Systems in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Saturday marked their 10th day on strike after turning down a fourth proposal from the German auto supplier, according to the UAW. Workers there also are seeking to get rid of a tier system and improve the starting pay of $15.50 per hour. The plant there supplies a nearby Mercedes-Benz factory.
The expiration date for the UAW’s contract with Mack Trucks Inc. also nears. If a tentative agreement isn’t reached a minute before midnight on Sunday, then workers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida could go on strike.