April 20, 2024

UAW leaders and automakers return to the bargaining table

As the United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three automakers entered a second day, the parties were set to return to the bargaining table Saturday.

Some 12,700 UAW members — or roughly 8 percent of the union’s autoworkers — are on strike at a Stellantis plant in Toledo, at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Mo., and at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich. In addition, 2,600 nonstriking GM and Ford workers will be temporarily laid off in the coming days, the auto companies warned, because those facilities depend on work from the plants that are on strike.

The union and companies remain far apart on pay and benefits in their weeks-long contract negotiations, with the union demanding a 36 percent wage increase over four years. On Saturday, Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep and Chrysler, said it is offering a 21 percent cumulative wage increase over the course of the contract. Ford and GM have offered raises of 20 percent.

Why UAW workers say they are on strike

The UAW continues to keep its strike plans secret. When asked Friday night whether it might strike at more plants, UAW President Shawn Fain said that depended on the outcome of negotiations.

He said the union planned to meet with Ford “first thing” Saturday. The union also is meeting with GM on Saturday.

“As things progress or don’t progress, we’ll make decisions as a board or as a union, and we’ll take the next step,” Fain said after a rally in Detroit late Friday. “It could be in a day, it could be in week. It just depends on how things progress.”

He added that laid-off employees would be “taken care of” by the union, although he did not elaborate on whether they would be eligible for strike pay. The UAW pays striking workers $500 a week.

In a statement Saturday morning, Fain said the union will make sure laid-off workers “will not go without an income.” He accused the companies of trying to “put the squeeze on our members to settle for less.”

GM and Ford said the layoffs were a direct consequence of the strike, which is depriving nonstriking plants of materials. The laid-off workers will not be eligible for the usual unemployment benefits the companies pay when they idle any of their plants, both companies said.

“We have said, repeatedly, that nobody wins in a strike, and that effects go well beyond our employees on the plant floor and negatively impact our customers, suppliers and the communities where we do business,” GM said in a statement Friday.

It’s the first time the union has launched a strike of any size on all three companies at the same time. The last national auto strike was against GM in 2019.

The autoworker strikes that changed America

The Stellantis plant in Toledo makes Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators. GM’s Wentzville plant makes Chevrolet Colorado trucks and Express vans as well as GMC Canyon trucks and Savana vans. Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne makes Ranger trucks and Bronco SUVs.

Fain has called the companies’ offers inadequate after years of sharp inflation and fat corporate profits and executive pay. Full-time UAW workers earn between $18 and $32 an hour, along with profit-sharing payments and other bonuses. Temporary workers earn less.

The automakers argue that they are offering better wage increases and benefits than they have in decades. Ford calls its offer the best in 80 years. GM chief executive Mary Barra on Friday told CBS News that the company’s offer is “a record from a gross-wage perspective in our 115-year history.”

But she said GM cannot meet all of the union’s demands while remaining profitable. Those demands include a 32-hour workweek, defined-benefit pensions for all workers instead of 401(k) accounts, and company-financed health care in retirement.

Lauren K. Gurley contributed reporting from Detroit.

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