The United Auto Workers (UAW) president laid out the union’s strategy for striking the “Big Three” automakers, telling members on Wednesday that they may carry out targeted walkouts to keep 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 would strike any company where they didn’t have a satisfactory deal in place by the deadline.
Never before has the union struck all three companies at once. As HuffPost reported earlier this week, it was possible the union would decide to strike select facilities to disrupt production rather than wage a more costly concurrent work stoppage across an entire company or all three.
Shawn Fain, the UAW president, 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 “sitdown” strike that began in Flint, Michigan, in late 1936.
“This is going to create confusion for the companies. It’s going to keep them guessing on what might happen next.”
– UAW President Shawn Fain
“This is going to create confusion for the companies,” Fain said. “It’s going to keep them guessing on what might happen next. And it will turbocharge the power of our negotiators.”
Fain said the union would inform local affiliates two hours before the strike deadline on Thursday whether they were expected to strike. Those not told to strike would be expected to hold back.
“This strike requires us to be very disciplined,” Fain said.
Although such a strategy would inflict less pain on the auto companies, it would also inflict less pain on workers. The union has a strike fund of $825 million, which would pay workers $500 per 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 lines at once.
With targeted strikes, many members could remain on the job while the union still managed to create production and distribution headaches.
The union is trying to reach new four-year agreements with the companies, but Fain said that despite progress, the two sides remain far apart on certain key issues.
The union has proposed 40% pay increases over the life of the contract to make up for inflation and previous concessions. Fain said Ford had come up to 20%, GM to 18% and Stellantis to 17.5%, but the union still considers those offers insufficient.
Fain also said the companies have moved on the “two-tier” system that pays newer workers less for performing the same work as veterans. It currently takes eight years to “progress” to the top pay rate. Fain said all companies have offered to cut that timeline in half to four years, but the union has said workers should reach the top rate in 90 days.
He said other differences remained on the issues of profit sharing, temporary employees and plant closures.
Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement Wednesday that his company had made “increasingly generous” offers to the union, and that he hoped the two sides could avoid “a disastrous outcome.”
“If there is a strike, it’s not because Ford didn’t make a great offer. We have and that’s what we can control,” Farley said.
Fain said the union would still consider the possibility of striking everywhere depending on how talks progressed, but he made it clear the union would start with more limited disruptions.
He said, “Your local will only strike if you are called upon to do so.”