The UAW union launched a strike against Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, setting off a flurry of political blame-trading and concern among industry observers.
For the first time in its history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has launched a strike against Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, setting off a flurry of political blame-trading and concern among industry observers.
Thousands of UAW members walked off the job on Friday at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis simultaneously—a historical first—after their four-year contracts at the three automakers expired at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14.
While the UAW leadership called the strike a “defining moment,” the walkout triggered a round of finger-pointing, blame-trading—along with warnings of harm to the economy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blamed President Joe Biden and his administration’s “overly aggressive pro-union agenda” for the strike, while the president wagged his finger at supposedly greedy auto executives who refuse to share the spoils of record profits “fairly.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took the opportunity of the strike to signal Democrat support for “auto workers seeking fair pay and good pensions” while taking a potshot at former President Donald Trump and “extreme Republicans” for “gifting billions to the wealthy and corporations” by cutting taxes.
For his part, President Trump also weighed in, telling NBC News in an interview set to air Sunday on “Meet the Press” that auto workers’ jobs will move to China while criticizing UAW President Shawn Fain because “auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership.”
A number of Democrat lawmakers took to social media to proclaim their support for the UAW workers on strike, with many calling for a “fair deal” that one of the automakers said was “unsustainable” and warned that a prolonged strike could have “wide-ranging consequences for our business and the economy.”
Ford CEO Jim Farley said that if the automaker were to meet the union’s demands—which include a 40 percent pay hike—”there’s no way we can be sustainable as a company.”
The UAW is demanding a four-year contract that consists of a 40 percent pay hike, a 32-hour work week with 40 hours of pay, the elimination of compensation tiers, and the restoration of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and conventional pensions.
“This fight is our generation’s defining moment,” the UAW’s Mr. Fain said in a statement, in which he announced that thousands of the union’s members had embarked on a so-called “Stand Up Strike” that involves select local unions going on strike rather than at all plants all at once.
So far, UAW members haven’t targeted the companies’ cash cows, which are full-size pickup trucks and big SUVs, instead targeting plants with lower profit margins.
Union members have thus far gone on strike at three facilities: GM Wentzville Assembly (Local 2250), Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex (Local 12), and Ford Michigan Assembly Plant–Final Assembly and Paint (Local 900).
“As time goes on, more locals may be called on to ‘Stand Up’ and join the strike,” UAW said in a notice. “That give us maximum leverage and maximum flexibility in our fight to win a fair contract at each of the Big Three automakers.”
The Epoch Times has reached out to the three automakers and the White House with requests for comment for this story.
After the talks collapsed, President Biden said that he respects the strike and said that he’s sending White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to Detroit to try and broker a deal between the two sides.
“The bottom line is that auto workers helped create America’s middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class,” President Biden said. “It’s my hope that the parties can return to the negotiation table to forge a win-win agreement.”
The White House has been involved in trying to broker a deal, with Mr. Fain meeting President Biden in the West Wing in July, where he outlined the UAW’s demands.
Mr. Fain has outlined an ambitious set of goals, including double-digit pay hikes, ending the tiered wage system that pays new hires less than veterans, and restoring defined-benefit pension plans that the automakers ended years ago for new employees.
“As I go to the table this week, I’ll be giving the Big Three the most audacious and ambitious list of proposals that they’ve seen in decades,” Mr. Fain said in an earlier video message.
President Biden said that “after negotiations broke down,” the UAW announced targeted strikes at several plants.
“We agree with Joe Biden when he says ‘record profits mean record contracts.’ We don’t agree when he says negotiations have broken down,” the union boss told the outlet. “Our national elected negotiators and UAW leadership are hard at work at the bargaining table. Our members and allies are standing strong at the picket lines.”
Mr. Fain went on to say that warnings about the economic impact of the strike are overblown fear-mongering, while calling on President Biden to get involved in brokering a deal.
“The companies and the media want to use fear tactics about how we’re going to wreck the economy. We’re not going to wreck the economy,” Mr. Fain told Politico. “The truth is we are going to wreck the billionaire economy. Working people are not afraid. You know who’s afraid? The corporate media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid.”
‘No Wonder Unions Feel Emboldened’
One group that has warned about the economic impact of the strike is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby.
“The decision by the United Auto Workers to initiate a strike will have far-reaching negative consequences for our economy, for the American workers directly employed by the Detroit Three, their suppliers and dealers, as well as the thousands of small businesses and families whose livelihoods will also be put at risk,” Ms. Clark, the group’s CEO, said in a statement.
She blamed President Biden and his administration’s pro-union policies for the situation.
“The UAW strike and indeed the ‘summer of strikes’ is the natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” she continued.
She said that, “it is no wonder unions feel emboldened when they see the Biden administration declaring that unions don’t actually have to win an election to be recognized, that those in management should be muzzled if they oppose unionization, and that preference for government grants and tax credits will go to shops that are unionized.”
For their part, the Big Three automakers have said they want to reach a deal that’s fair to workers but that also gives the companies flexibility as the industry shifts to electric models that have fewer parts and require less labor.
The Big Three automakers have proposed pay hikes ranging from 17.5 percent to 20 percent, while the UAW is seeking something closer to 40 percent.
Ford said in a statement obtained by The Epoch Times that the UAW’s terms were “unsustainable” and that the company had bargained “in good faith in an effort to avoid a strike, which could have wide-ranging consequences for our business and the economy.”
“Our hourly employees would take home nearly 60 percent less on average with UAW strike pay than they would from working,” Ford continued. “And without vehicles in production, the profit-sharing checks that UAW workers could expect to receive early next year will also be decimated by a significant strike.”
The company added that it remains “absolutely committed to reaching an agreement that rewards our employees and protects Ford’s ability to invest in the future as we move through industry-wide transformation,” referring to the electrification push that looms large in the background of the strike.
The UAW has expressed concern about the transition to electric vehicles, including federally subsidized work going to non-union battery plants. It takes around two-thirds the time to assemble a battery-powered electric vehicle as it does a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Among its various demands, the UAW has asked for protections in case of plant closures.
GM said in a statement obtained by The Epoch Times that the company has worked around the clock in response to the union’s demands and that it, too, has bargained in good faith.
“We’re at a crossroads on our path to building a company that can sustain all of us for decades to come,” GM said.
GM said that it had put forward a “historic proposal that rewards our team members, sets us up for the future, and continues a profit-sharing program so we all benefit from the company’s success.”
A Stellantis spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an earlier emailed statement when the UAW first authorized its strike that the company is focused on reaching a new agreement that “balances the concerns of our 43,000 employees with our vision for the future–one that better positions the business to meet the challenges of the U.S. marketplace and secures the future for all of our employees, their families and our company.”
The Anderson Economic Group has estimated that the economic impact of the strike could hit $5 billion in 10 days.