Auto workers hit picket lines, giving Biden a headache

The strike will initially target the GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Mo., the Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and the Ford Michigan assembly plant in Wayne, Mich. Fain announced during a live broadcast shortly after 10 p.m.

Fain ordered union members at other facilities to continue working without a contract at this time.

The work stoppage is only a fraction of the scale of a full-scale strike by workers covered by expiring contracts. As such, it will not have the same immediate economic impact on auto-producing regions, nor on the economy as a whole, while giving the union the opportunity to raise the temperature on automakers automobiles.

The Biden administration is working to avoid a strike, which could disrupt the economy just as Biden’s re-election efforts are ramping up.

It’s the first simultaneous strike against Detroit’s three major automakers, Fain said, opening a new front in the union’s battles against automakers.

Fain unveiled the plan, a new tactic the union calls a “standing strike,” on Wednesday evening, without revealing how many sites or which locations would be involved in the initial wave. In Thursday’s announcement, Fain gave no indication of when other sites might join the strike or how they would be determined, only urging members to be prepared “to any time “.

“This strategy will leave businesses in uncertainty. This will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in the negotiations,” Fain said. “If we have to go all out, we will. »

In the past, the UAW generally targeted one company to focus its efforts on. For example, during the last strike in 2019, the union stopped work at GM and put nearly 50,000 workers on the picket line for 40 days before reaching an agreement.

However, the strategic ambiguity of the new tactic will also weigh on Biden, who was eager to avoid a strike amid economic uncertainty at home and as his 2024 re-election bid approaches.

The White House moved cautiously during the tense negotiations, closely monitoring developments in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement and urging a deal but without directly intervening in the process.

The union has demanded wage increases of up to 40 percent above the just-expired mandates, in addition to cost-of-living adjustments, the eradication of a two-tier pay structure and certain rights in the event of factory closures.

The companies have submitted a battery of counterproposals, although none come close to the union’s terms. On Thursday, GM proposed a 20 percent raise to the most tenured workers, spread out over the life of the agreement, a proposal that CEO Mary Barra said in a video message was a “compelling and unprecedented” deal for members of the UAW.

Fain rejected the offers, often calling them “insulting.”

The Wentzville plant employs 4,100 people and produces mid-size trucks and full-size vans, including the Chevrolet Colorado and Express as well as the GMC Canyon and Savana. Stellantis Toledo has 4,420 employees and manufactures the Jeep Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler, including its electric version, the Wrangler 4xe.

Ford Michigan employs 4,900 people and produces the Ford Ranger and Bronco models. It is not clear how many employees at each of the targeted plants are members of the UAW or how many employees work on the final assembly and painting lines at Ford Michigan.

Stellantis’ Toledo plant and Ford’s Michigan plant are located in counties that voted for President Joe Biden in 2020, while GM’s Wentzville plant is in a county that voted heavily for former President Donald Trump. None of the three factories are located in so-called right-to-work states, where unionizing is more difficult.

GM said in a statement that it was “disappointed by the actions of UAW leaders, despite the unprecedented economic package GM has proposed, including historic wage increases and manufacturing commitments.”

Stellantis said it had placed the company in “emergency mode” and would make “appropriate structural decisions to protect our North American operations and the company.”

“We are extremely disappointed by the refusal of UAW leadership to responsibly engage in reaching a fair agreement in the best interests of our employees, their families and our customers,” Stellantis said.

In a statement Thursday evening, Ford said it did not receive its “first substantive counterproposal” from the union until 8 p.m., but that it “showed little progress on the union’s initial demands.”

Fain appeared on the picket lines at the Ford Michigan plant shortly after midnight. Michigan Democratic Representatives. Debbie Dingell And Rashida Tlaib also joined the strikers, the Detroit News reported.

While the clash between the UAW and automakers focused on traditional issues like wages and benefits, Biden’s push to put more electric vehicles on the roads was an important subtext, with the UAW viewing the move as posing risks to union jobs. The initiative, backed by the $369 billion in clean energy subsidies included in Biden’s climate law, is the centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to stop global warming.

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and other senior administration officials, like senior adviser Gene Sperling, have repeatedly expressed confidence in the negotiations — as has Biden, who on the holiday of Labor, expressed skepticism about the possibility of a strike – and promised not to intervene unless one of them requested it. or both sides.

At the same time, liberal lawmakers are increasingly expressing support for the UAW’s stance against big automakers as the impasse draws closer.

In mid-July, Biden met privately with Fain at the White House, and the two spoke by phone Thursday to discuss the state of play. The president also spoke Thursday with executives of the three companies.

The young union leader and the pro-worker president have, at best, an uneasy alliance. Sperling, a Michigan native who served on the president’s auto industry task force from 2009 to 2010, was chosen by Biden to be the administration’s point person to monitor the negotiations.

Fain has criticized, among other issues, the administration’s handling of incentives to support the transition from internal combustion to electric vehicles, and the UAW has clearly refused to support the president’s re-election.

The White House insists its dual goals of strengthening the labor movement and fighting climate change are not mutually exclusive and that it has pushed automakers to put job wages and benefits in electric vehicles at the same level as those of traditional assembly line work.

The UAW is skeptical of these arguments, countering that electric vehicles require fewer workers than traditional cars and that many new factories have sprung up in states that hamper unionizing efforts. The union called on the Biden administration to do more to ensure that union workers are not hamstrung by the transition.

Donald Trump has attempted to capitalize on these concerns by lambasting the push for electric vehicles and, more broadly, Biden’s climate agenda. However, Fain said another Trump term would be disastrous, all but closing the door on the former president’s bid to gain support from the UAW.

Some union members, however, might find Trump’s speech appealing. He attracted a significant number of votes in union households during his successful 2016 campaign, and did so again in 2020.

The former president on Wednesday urged UAW members to rely on leadership to support his bid for the 2024 elections, or else “leave the Union and create a new one that will properly protect your interests.”


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