About 13,000 US auto workers stopped making vehicles and went on strike on Friday after their leaders could not bridge a giant gap between union demands in contract talks and what Detroit’s three automakers are willing to pay.
Members of the United Auto Workers union began picketing at a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit, and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.
It was the first time in the union’s 88-year history that it walked out on all three companies simultaneously as four-year contracts with the companies expired at 11.59pm on Thursday.
The strikes will likely chart the future of the union and of America’s homegrown auto industry at a time when US labour is flexing its might and the companies face a historic transition from building internal combustion automobiles to making electric vehicles.
If they last a long time, dealers could run short of vehicles and prices could rise. The walkout could even be a factor in next year’s presidential election by testing Joe Biden’s proud claim to be the most union-friendly president in American history.
“Workers all over the world are watching this,” said Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 60 unions with 12.5 million members.
The strike is far different from those during previous UAW negotiations. Instead of going after one company, the union, led by its pugnacious new president, Shawn Fain, is striking at all three. But not all of the 146,000 UAW members at company plants are walking picket lines, at least not yet.
Instead, the UAW targeted a handful of factories to prod company negotiators to raise their offers, which were far lower than union demands of 36 percent wage increases over four years. GM and Ford offered 20 percent and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, offered 17.5 percent.
Even Fain has called the union’s demands audacious, but he maintains the automakers are raking in billions and can afford them. He scoffed at company statements that costly settlements would force them to raise vehicle prices, saying labor accounts for only four percent to five percent of vehicle costs.
“They could double our raises and not raise car prices and still make millions of dollars in profits,” Fain said.
“We’re not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.” (AP)