Detroit Federation of Teachers union President Terrence Martin and Executive Vice President Lakia Wilson join UAW members on the picket line back in September 2019 | Ken Coleman
With one month until union contracts expire between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the “Big Three” car manufacturers, President Joe Biden has called for both sides to renegotiate to avoid a strike.
UAW-represented workers at Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis plants in Michigan have announced plans to vote on a potential strike next week if their contract demands are not met.
In past strikes, most recently a GM plant strike in 2019, have targeted only one of the major Detroit auto companies. It’s unclear if the UAW votes to strike whether or not all three plants currently seeking renegotiated contracts would be impacted.
In a statement, Biden, a longtime labor supporter, emphasized the need for auto companies to transition to a clean-energy industry while maintaining a high standard of treatment for workers. He said he expects both the UAW and the companies to collaborate on a new contract that protects wages and benefits while keeping the corporations competitive.
“As the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers come together — one month before the expiration of their contract — to negotiate a new agreement, I want to be clear about where I stand,” Biden said. “I’m asking all sides to work together to forge a fair agreement.”
Jodi Tinson, a spokesperson for Stellantis, said that the company is focused on reaching a new agreement for its 43,000 employees.
“The discussions between [Stellantis] and the UAW’s bargaining team continue to be constructive and collaborative with a focus on reaching a new agreement that balances the concerns of our 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,” Stinson said.
In the first six months of 2023, Ford, GM and Stellantis brought in approximately $21B in profits, a metric that UAW President Shawn Fain said in an Aug. 2 Facebook livestream justifies a hike in contract benefits for workers.
“Record profits mean record contracts,” Fain said.
UAW member demands for the bargaining include eliminating worker tiers, double-digit pay raises, restoring cost of living adjustments and making increases to benefits like pensions, retiree medical benefits and paid time off.
While the auto companies haven’t made public statements about any concessions or demands of their own, they’ve still indicated a positive relationship with UAW and a desire to negotiate.
Ford Motor Co. spokesperson Kelli Felker said in an email to the Michigan Advance that the company is proud of its UAW history and is eager to negotiate new contracts.
“Ford is proud to build more vehicles in America and employ more UAW-represented hourly workers in America than any other automaker,” Felker said. “We look forward to working with the UAW on creative solutions during this time when our dramatically changing industry needs a skilled and competitive workforce more than ever.”
Each of the Big Three companies are leading the charge among other Michigan-based companies to promote electric vehicle (EV) production, a cause Biden has made a priority of his administration’s climate platform. In his statement, he said that the role of unions in building the middle class should not be understated in the new move towards EVs.
“The need to transition to a clean energy economy should provide a win‑win opportunity for auto companies and unionized workers,” Biden said. “It should enable workers to make good wages and benefits to support their families, while leading us into a future where America is leading the way in reducing vehicle emissions and producing autos that will successfully compete domestically and globally.”
In a statement released in response to Biden’s remarks, Fain said that UAW is grateful for Biden’s support in the burgeoning EV industry.
“At this critical moment in negotiations, we appreciate President Biden’s support for strong contracts that ensure good paying union jobs now and pave the way for a just transition to an EV future,” Fain said. “We agree with the president that the Big Three’s joint venture battery plants should have the same strong pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for.”
As Biden continues to present his administration as a pro-union juggernaut, in spite of losing some union support over blocking a railroad worker strike in 2022, he said he agrees with several of the UAW’s conditions for a new contract, including honoring the right to organize and preventing “painful” plant closures.
“I support a fair transition to a clean energy future,” Biden said. “The UAW helped create the American middle class and as we move forward in this transition to new technologies, the UAW deserves a contract that sustains the middle class.”
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