‘This Is Our Defining Moment’: UAW Launches Historic Strikes Against Big Three Automakers

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Yves here. This post, due to the need of the very much diminished left in the US needing to celebrate when unions and other coalitions start rebuilding atrophied muscles, takes a bit of time to get to the meat of the case, which it then presents very well. As we said many years ago, in manufacturing, the percentage of direct factory costs relative to product cost that boards and executives whinging about workers demanding pay increases is flat out dishonest. If they really were worried about costs, the place to look is in all the middle and senior management roles and pay, and even more importantly, as this post also lays out, how much money is devoted to what amounts to stock price manipulation via buybacks.

By Jake Johnson, staff writer at Common Dreams . Originally published at Common Dreams

The United Auto Workers union kicked off historic strikes against the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers early Friday morning after the companies failed to meet workers’ demands for adequate pay increases and benefit improvements.

The initial wave of strikes hit select Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis facilities, with the union deploying a tactic it has described as a ” stand-up strike.”

UAW members at General Motors’ Wentzville Assembly in Missouri, Ford’s Michigan Assembly, and Stellantis’ Toledo Assembly in Ohio were the first to walk off the job on Friday, and additional locals will be called on to strike in the coming days as negotiations continue.

Those who remain on the job will be working under an expired collective bargaining agreement, though they still have status quo protections.

The labor actions mark the first time the UAW has ever gone on strike against all three major automakers simultaneously.

“We’ve been working hard, trying to reach a deal for economic and social justice for our members,” UAW president Shawn Fain said in a speech late Thursday, just ahead of the midnight strike deadline. “We have been firm. We are committed to winning an agreement with the Big Three that reflects the incredible sacrifice and contributions UAW members have made to these companies.”

“The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up,” Fain added. “This is our defining moment.”

The companies’ latest publicized offers to the UAW included raises of up to 20% over the course of a four-year contract, but the proposals thus far have fallen well short of the union’s demands on wages, cost-of-living adjustments, retiree benefits, and other key issues.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, who brought in nearly $21 million in total compensation last year, told CNN that the UAW’s push for a near-40% wage increase would “put us out of business,” a claim that Fain dismissed as a “joke.”

“The cost of labor for a vehicle is 5% of the vehicle,” Fain said from the picket line outside Ford’s Michigan Assembly plant. “They could double our wages and not raise the prices of vehicles, and they would still make billions of dollars. It’s a lie like everything else that comes out of their mouths.”

Between 2013 and 2022, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis released this week, the Big Three automakers saw roughly $250 billion in total profits—an increase of 92%—and the companies’ CEOs received a 40% pay increase. The automakers also rewarded shareholders with $66 billion in dividend payouts and stock buybacks.

U.S. autoworkers’ wages, meanwhile, have declined by over 19% since the car industry’s 2008 crisis, during which workers gave up cost-of-living adjustments and other benefits to help keep the major automakers afloat.

“As a single parent, I’m working paycheck to paycheck,” Adelisa LeBron, a striking Ford worker, told The Washington Post. “I love the way Shawn is fighting for us, how he’s not going to settle.”

In his address late Thursday, Fain urged locals that are not currently on strike to “keep organizing” to “show the companies you are ready to join the stand-up strike at a moment’s notice.”

“This strategy will keep the companies guessing,” he said. “It will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in bargaining. And if we need to go all out, we will. Everything is on the table.”

On Friday evening, the UAW is planning to hold what Fain dubbed a “mass rally” outside of a Ford building in downtown Detroit, where U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to appear.

“We must show the world that our fight is a righteous fight,” said Fain.

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  1. Feral Finster

    Was it Sunak who urged NHS workers not to strike in order to “show Putin”? Expect something comparable from Joe “Let Them Eat Cake!” Biden.

    Because of course, having billionaires pay more taxes is never an option.

    1. some guy

      I heard on NPR this morning that Biden has so far spoken in support of the UAW workers and their desires.

      If he continues in that vein, it shows he still has some political instincts left.

        1. some guy

          Yes, that is so. But his words on the UAW strike show he at least has some political instincts.
          If he forebears from interfering with the strike on Ownership’s behalf, that will be a louder speaking action as well.

      1. britzklieg

        Yeah… I remember Obama committing to putting on shoes and standing with the factory workers. Money talks, BS walks…

  2. jo6pac

    Darn I saw chart this morning on the break down of cost and wages was second to last. Yep buy backs were first but now I can’t find it:-(

    1. Carla

      It was a Twitter entry inserted in the daily Links. I did an online search but could not find that UAW chart anywhere. If I were the UAW, I’d be plastering that chart EVERYWHERE, not just feeding the X beast.

  3. Louis Fyne

    I want the UAW rank-and-file to get a great contract…..but we maybe be seeing round #1 of mutually assured destruction between labor and management/shareholders.

    Areas that likely are causing a negotiation impasse, beyond UAW pay:

    * The plans are that GM, Ford, Stellantis will be shifting to 100% electric vehicles within 10 years…..that is a lot of potential layoffs at engine facilities.

    * Ford, GM, Stellantis have big long-term debt loads that will need to be rolled over in the intermediate term while the car companies need cash to move to EV platforms;

    * Management cost-cutting has meant sourcing basic, commodified parts for American-assembled cars from low-wage countries (Mexico, Vietnam, Poland, etc), will the UAW allow this to continue in exchange for US wage hikes?

    * A lot of US assembly for cars, engines, transmission has been shifted to Mexico, how will both sides handle that issue?

    1. aj

      I’ve read some reports that their might not be enough raw materials to produce enough batteries for everyone to have an electric car. Battery manufacturing is not my are of expertise, so if anyone has more info I’d appreciate it.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        The CEO of Toyota has reportedly said that 90 hybrid vehicles can be supplied with electric-running capacity for the cost of one fully electric vehicle. He may be talking his book, but unless he’s lying outright it seems like a compelling argument.

        1. Louis Fyne

          The Toyota CEO makea a compellibg thermodynamics-based argument that wholly lost at the policy/lawmaking level.

          Compare $7500 federal subsidy for a $40,000 Tesla 3 and $0 federal subsidy for a Prius or Camry hybrid.

          EV virtue-signalling thrashed the thermodynamics number crunching.

          For the same amount of lithium batteries, you can get dozens of drivers to half their petrol usage, or (b) get 1 driver to go 100% petrol-free.

          Pretty much the entire world, including China, chose (b).

    2. some guy

      Didn’t Trump’s new NAFTA agreement legalize labor organizing in fact as well as in theory in Mexico? If so, the UAW could organize car workers in Mexico.

  4. CaliDan

    Speaking of rebuilding atrophied muscles, I proffer that striking in front of your $51,865 msrp* Stellantis product might not be the best look.

    Guffaw aside, I wish the workers’ needs be met at the expense of the CEOs’ 40% (!!!) pay increase.

    *Price for a new Jeep Gladiator with paint other than white (add $495) and the matching paint hard top, which comes beginning with the Overland trim (add $2895). See: jeep.com–>Gladiator–>builds.

    1. Lex

      I don’t know what Stellantis employee discounting is but I know that Ford’s dealer invoice (plus small commission). In high margin vehicles the Ford A plan is pretty large.

      But your point stands about the cost of a vehicle these days which is all the more interesting in that the automakers have not trickled that down to workers.

  5. Louis Fyne

    this isn’t meant to be concern trolling, just being realistic….

    The UAW fight has a lot of parallels w/the Writers Guild, Screen Actors Guild strikes: industries right on the cusp of some big revolutionary changes in the way that there product will be built/delivered.

    Just as with the Hollywood studios, the carmakers have every incentive to dig-in for the long haul.

    the biggest potential winner will be greenfield factory sites in the US right-to-work states.

    EVs will mean the end of legacy engine and transmission facilities and legacy automakers ultimately morphing into a final assembler of outsourced parts, including the powertrain.

    The UAW should have been picking the proverbial hill to die on four years ago.

    The cruelest thing that could happen is that the UAW agrees to a contract w/significant gains for the final assembly workers, but essentially leaves all the workers in the pre-assembly supply chain on their own.

  6. Glen

    I have been on strike. It is very stressful. The whole time my wife gave me what I ended up calling the “deer in the headlamp look” with an unspoken “WTF is going on, you got kids to feed” on her lips. Yet, by the time I was on strike, I was convinced it was the right thing to do.

    And I am convinced that this UAW strike is also the right thing to do. The vital middle class in America is disappearing. No political party really supports it despite what they say which is and has been short sighted. I had a bit role in the last Cold War, and despite what you hear about our military might, or industrial or financial prowess, what really “won” the Cold War was the bare simple fact that people in America had a good life. We had a thriving middle class. Sure, we had and have problems, I’m not trying to say we didn’t, but if you compared us to the rest of the world, we were doing OK.

    But to say there is no divide between the very rich and everybody else in America is to ignore the obvious. I’m not sure what is the best way to fix it, but I think strong unions are part of the solution. In 1975, I got my first union job, and my pay went from the then minimum wage of $1.90/hr to almost $7.00/hr. To see that the Federal minimum wage almost fifty years later is only $7.25/hr is pretty crazy.

    So solidarity, brothers and sisters. The harsh reality is nobody wins a strike, you just hope that five-ten years out, it’s worth the pain of going through it.

  7. some guy

    How many multi-month small donors did the Sanders Campaign have at peak? A million? That would be $27 per month for $27 million per month.

    What if all the former Small Donors for Sanders got themselves back together as Small Donors for Striker Support? They could raise Bernie-loads of money and give it all to the UAW for use in supporting strikers and strike-adjacent laid-off workers. Month after month after month. Do they really need Bernie’s support or advice or permission to do that?

    They could call their ongoing striker support fundraising by a catchy name like Bossbusters or something.

      1. some guy

        Yes, but is it too late to do it now?

        Should it be done, if possible, based on better late than never?

        Or should it be not even attempted based on too late now so forget about it?

        Am I wrong to think it could still be useful, even now? Are people ready to accept the fact that there will be no savior or leader anywhere in politics or government and so people will have to do their own self-salvation and self-co-leadership in self-forming self-propelled groups?

        1. Reify99

          Why isn’t there a national strike fund? I’d rather contribute there than politics.

          We could even start accounts for companies that really *need* to unionize but haven’t done so yet. Tesla comes to mind.

        2. Rolf

          Yes, but is it too late to do it now?

          No, as long as you’re still kicking, not too late.

          … there will be no savior or leader anywhere in politics or government and so people will have to do their own self-salvation and self-co-leadership in self-forming self-propelled groups?

          I believe this is correct. There is no savior coming from DC for the middle class, or working class, or working poor, or really any class other than the “donor” class — those that can easily drop hundreds of thousands or more on their political horses, as easily as buying a cup of coffee. No. We have to support and protect each other — and that means forming local alliances around real people, not political parties, and least not the current ones. For the last 40+ years, Democratic and Republican parties alike have failed to protect the average American. That system is broke (isn’t that the real meaning of so many terrible choices for candidates?), most current office-holders can’t be reformed or are powerless against an entrenched, embedded structure.

          The only leverage left is to refuse to play, and take it from there, no? I don’t know know what else to do.

  8. Susan the other

    If Biden and the DNC are smart they will take the occasion to ram through a universal health care law, one loudly designed to benefit labor, even though it will benefit the corporation more. It would also be good to offer free quality education through 4 years of college/training. Housing assistance is also a good idea, as well as a food subsidy.

    1. some guy

      Biden and the DNC are deeply opposed to both of these ideas. They would rather lose the election by obstructing and preventing these ideas than win the election by supporting these ideas.

    2. jo6pac

      WOW that is a great idea and we all know the dnc and joe (who owes us $600) haven’t even given this a thought.

      I’m shocked Susan the other that you even think they might do this good deed./sn;-)

    3. redleg

      All of those should be done, but:
      1. Have you seen Biden and the DNC? Even before Biden’s brain became spongy, not the sharpest knives in the drawer.
      2. You are making a common mistake- thinking that they give a damn about the 99%. They don’t, as the singular thing they care about is money.
      For comparison, Republicans care about 2 things- money and power. We’re no longer in a left vs. right world. It’s the very rich against all.


    4. Cat Burglar

      You’re right, but it is not clear what path would take us to those policies.

      Our handlers are headed toward great power conflict and climate change crises at the head of a people who are getting poorer, more indebted, angrier, and sicker. As Glen put it above, the Cold War was won because of a large, economically stable middle class that is disappearing, and what social and political base can replace that? For now, it looks as if our handlers will go forward under the control of their owners, handing us the same centrist thing we’ve been getting, until they just can’t manage it anymore. That’s when an opening could come, if there is enough pressure from below.

      The strike is another part of the increasing instability our managers face, so I hope the strikers win big! They are on strike for us all.

  9. Louis Fyne

    I thought i,d mention this since point we are on the topic of stock buybacks and US labor…

    GM has a $5 billion stock buyback plan outstanding. obviously it is reasonablw that the UAW fights to shift some of that money to wages.

    Apple has $180 billion in stock buyback plans in the past 2 years, but is there any media push to assemble iPhones the US?


    Apple’s PR and lobbying firms deserve every dollar paid if you are an Apple shareholder.

    1. Skip Intro

      Wasn’t there a piece while back about Apple trying to get manufacturing working in the US, but failing due to basic lack of industrial infrastructure, compared to China?

  10. tawal

    I recall Yves saying the UAW labor cost of a Big 3 vehicle was 15% back around the Great Depression. If they’re only 5% today as Fain states speaks volumes. Or is so much of assembly been moved out of US since then?
    Love to see how many UAW members now vs. say 2009.
    I think they start at $17/hour now from a previous article. That’s insanely cheap. I believe they were earning over $30 in late 80’s, in late 80’s dollars.
    You can get a food service job in SoCal today for a bit more than $17/hr, and work in an air conditioned environment.

  11. Verifyfirst

    Amusing to see the CNN interview with Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, who explains her 30% pay raise over the last four years by saying–well, it’s tied to the performance of the company (which performance was nicely goosed by massive share buy backs, but ok…..).

    Then she goes on to say–our hourly workforce also benefit from our performance, since we have profit-sharing for them too. “we have” is doing a lot of work there–hourly profit sharing is a contractual, negotiated benefit that the auto companies have fought tooth and nail to eliminate an/or minimize in every negotiations, probably including this one.

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