Reported by Irving Mejia-Hilario for the Dallas Morning News.
Over 7,000 union workers in Illinois and Michigan joined other striking auto workers Friday as the United Auto Workers widened its work stoppage to win higher wages and benefits from Detroit’s Big Three automakers.
UAW President Shawn Fain called on workers at a Ford assembly plant in Chicago and a General Motors plant outside Lansing, Mich., to join about 18,000 other strikers across the country.
The expanded strike doesn’t yet include the 5,000 workers at GM’s highly profitable Arlington assembly plant where full-size combustion engine SUVs are made. The plant produces Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes, GMC Yukons and Cadillac Escalades.
In a Facebook Live video with more than 60,000 viewers, Fain told the union’s 150,000 members nationwide to continue refusing to work overtime.
As the strike enters its third week, union leaders say contract negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three and the union are progressing slowly. The UAW lowered its demands to a minimum 30% pay increase over four years, down from its original 40% request, according to Bloomberg News.
The automakers’ last known wage offers were around 20% over the life of a four-year contract. Other contract improvements, such as cost of living increases, restoration of defined benefit pensions for newly hired workers and an end to tiers of wages within the union are also on the table.
Fain said the UAW received a “flurry of interest” from the automakers before Friday’s announcement. But he equated the contract talks to a fight where workers have one arm tied behind their backs.
“To restore the balance of power, we have to restore the strike,” he said.
Jeep maker Stellantis was spared from the new round of strike sites. It sent a contract proposal to the UAW a week ago and the UAW submitted a counterproposal Thursday.
The automakers have argued the UAW’s demands could make them uncompetitive in the global market as the industry gears up to switch to electric vehicles within the decade.
The strike started Sept. 15, when the UAW targeted a Ford assembly plant in Detroit, a Stellantis assembly complex in Toledo, Ohio, and a GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Mo. Last week, union leaders expanded the work stoppage to include 38 parts distribution centers nationwide, including a GM facility in Roanoke and a Stellantis facility in Carrollton.
The new strike sites make SUVs. GM’s Delta Township plant makes crossover SUVs like the Chevrolet Traverse. The Chicago Ford plant makes the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator.
Experts at the East Lansing, Mich.-based economic consulting firm Anderson Economic Group estimate the strike cost the economy $1.6 billion in lost earnings and wages through only the first week.
“Consumers and dealers are somewhat insulated in a very short strike,” said Tyler Theile, the firm’s vice president. “However, with current inventories hovering around only 55 days, the industry looks different than it did for the last UAW strike. Automakers have only about one-fifth of the inventory they had in 2019.”
It means consumers and dealerships will feel the immediate impacts of the strike quicker than in previous years. Ford even halted construction on a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan over concerns that the plant may not be able to operate competitively.
The UAW is funding its 18,300 striking workers with its $825 million strike fund.
A few strike sites are getting intense. Police were called out to a General Motors plant near Flint, Mich., when five picketers blocking the roadway entering the plant were struck by a vehicle. Two of the workers were taken to the hospital with all five sustaining minor injuries.
Strikers are not legally allowed to block the entrances to auto plants or distribution centers and the UAW is telling its members to not prevent anyone from entering or leaving facilities, according to an internal UAW document.
Fain said a UAW member and a state senator outside a Stellantis facility in Mansfield, Mass., were hit by cars and that guns were pulled on UAW members at a Stellantis facility in Ontario, Calif.
In a video posted to Twitter/X, Fain laid the blame at the automakers’ feet.
“We condemn this violence that GM and Stellantis are enabling,” Fain said. “These attacks on our members exercising their constitutional rights to strike and picket will not be tolerated. Shame on these companies for hiring violent scabs to try to break our strike.”
General Motors and Stellantis have denied Fain’s claims, dismissing them as false and misleading.
“The deliberate use of inflammatory and violent rhetoric is dangerous and needs to stop. The companies are not ‘the enemy’ and we are not at ‘war,’ ” Stellantis said in a statement.
The strike also continues to be a hot button in the political arena as Wednesday’s Republican debate opened with candidates being questioned about their stance on the strike.
“If I was giving advice to those workers, I would say go picket in front of the White House,” Republican candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said. “That’s where the strikes need to be. Disastrous economic policies that have driven up prices, interest rates, mortgage rates while wages remain stagnant.”
President Joe Biden made history when he became the first sitting president to join a picket line Tuesday. While wearing a hat sporting the UAW logo and standing side by side with Fain, Biden told picketers to “stick with it.”
“The companies are doing incredibly well and you should be doing incredibly well too,” Biden told picketers outside a GM distribution center in Belleville, Mich. “You deserve what you’ve earned. And you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting paid now,”
Though former President Donald Trump asked for the UAW and its members’ endorsement at an event Wednesday, the union’s leadership has not been willing to play ball with him.
“Let me be blunt. Donald Trump is coming off as a pompous [expletive],” said UAW vice president Mike Booth in an email to the Detroit Free Press. “Coming to Michigan to speak at a nonunion employer and pretending it has anything to do with our fight at the Big Three is just more verbal diarrhea from the former president.”
This UAW strike may also encourage others, like Mack Truck workers, to strike as their contract expires on Oct. 1, said Greg Regan, the AFL-CIO’s president of transportation trades.
“This is the most impactful tool that workers have when it comes to these sorts of contract disputes in any industry,” Ragan said. “I think we’re in an important moment for this series of labor movements we’ve seen across the country this year.”
Read more here.