The head of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union outlined the union’s strategy for strikes at the “Big Three” automakers, telling members Wednesday that they may stage targeted work stoppages to throw the companies off balance.
The UAW’s contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, which owns the Dodge and Jeep brands, all expire at midnight Friday morning. The union has said it will strike any company if a satisfactory agreement is not reached by the deadline.
Never before has the union struck all three companies at the same time. As HuffPost reported earlier this week, it is possible that the union would decide to strike at select plants to halt production rather than conducting a more costly work stoppage across the entire company or at all three companies at the same time.
Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW, said in an online town hall Wednesday that the union would take the targeted approach. He called it the “standup strike” strategy, an homage to the famous “sit-down strike” that began in Flint, Michigan, in late 1936.
“This will cause confusion for companies. It will keep them guessing about what might happen next.”
– UAW President Shawn Fain
““This will cause confusion for companies,” said Fain. “It will keep them guessing about what might happen next. And it will increase the power of our negotiators.”
Fain said the union will inform local affiliates two hours before Thursday’s strike deadline whether a strike is expected. Those not asked to strike are expected to exercise restraint.
“This strike requires great discipline from us,” said Fain.
Although such a strategy would cause less suffering to auto companies, it would also cause less suffering to workers. The union has an $825 million strike fund that would pay workers $500 a week, much less than they earn on the job. The fund could last an estimated 11 weeks if all 150,000 workers under the three contracts were on the picket line at the same time.
Targeted strikes allowed many members to remain in office, while the union still managed to cause production and distribution problems.
The union is trying to reach new four-year agreements with the companies, but Fain said that despite progress on certain key issues, the two sides remain far apart.
The union has proposed a 40% pay increase over the life of the contract to offset inflation and previous concessions. Fain said Ford got 20%, GM got 18% and Stellantis got 17.5%, but the union still thinks those offers are inadequate.
Fain also said companies have moved to the “two-tier” system, which pays newer workers less than veterans for the same work. It currently takes eight years to reach the highest wage rate. Fain said all companies have offered to cut that time frame in half to four years, but the union said workers should reach the maximum rate in 90 days.
There are still further differences of opinion on the topics of profit sharing, temporary workers and factory closures.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement Wednesday that his company has made “increasingly generous” offers to the union and that he hopes both sides can avoid “a catastrophic outcome.”
“If there is a strike, it’s not because Ford didn’t make a great offer. That’s what we have and that’s what we can control,” Farley said.
Fain said the union would still consider the possibility of striking anywhere depending on how talks progress, but made clear the union would begin with more limited disruptions.
He said: “Your community will only strike if asked to do so.”