On September 15, over 13,000 workers walked off the job at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (the maker of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and 13 other brands of cars around the world). The workers are represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), who have been in negotiations with all three automakers.
UAW represents 146,000 auto workers across the three companies, and for the first time in its history is coordinating striking across all three major U.S. automakers at the same time. Shawn Fain is the president of UAW, and these strikes represent a new course for the union. Fain was elected recently in the union’s first democratic election for president.
Until recently, instead of having members of the union vote for their president, the outgoing president of UAW would essentially pick their successor, by hand picking delegates to the convention where the decision would be made. Last year, in its first open election for president the UAW, members selected Fain to lead their union.
In addition to being the first time that UAW has struck all three companies at once, UAW is also trying a new tactic they call “stand up strikes” in which, instead of everyone striking all at the same time, they are choosing key locations and striking those at all three companies, with the option of adding in more locations, and expanding the strike as needed. UAW has a strike fund of $825 million to support the strikers, and by only going out at key spots they can afford to strike for a long time while dealing blows at key points to the automakers’ ability to make profit.
Right now, the strike is limited to three plants, a GM factory in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit; and a Jeep plant which is operated by Stellantis in Toledo, Ohio. UAW has not yet said where or if they will expand the strike to more locations.
The UAW workers are demanding raises of 36% over four years, citing the sacrifices they have all made since the COVID-19 pandemic, and that under the previous leadership, raises in their contracts did not keep up with the times. Meanwhile the companies are offering raises of only 17.5 to 20%.
Fain campaigned for president of UAW saying that the union needed to move away from what he called “company unionism.” which didn’t win the raises workers deserved and allowed for the closure of many U.S. auto plants with relatively little resistance from the union.
It is unclear as of now how long the strikes will last, or how many workers will end up on strike before a deal is reached. If the strike goes long enough or gets big enough, it could have a major impact on the availability of new cars, as well as on the U.S. economy.