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Shawn Fain, president of United Auto Workers, greets workers at the Stellantis Sterling Heights assembly plant, to mark the start of contract negotiations in Sterling Heights, Michigan, United States, July 12, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union is preparing to carry out unprecedented targeted strikes against Ford engineGeneral Motors and Stellantis if the parties fail to reach new agreements by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Targeted strikes, or bottlenecks, are an alternative to national actions in which the union strikes only at certain factories. This is not the same as when members walk out of every factory and onto picket lines, like what happened four years ago during the last round of UAW negotiations with General engines.

Targeted strikes typically focus on key factories, which can then cause other factories to shut down production due to a lack of parts. They are not unprecedented, but the way UAW President Shawn Fain plans to proceed with the work stoppages is not typical. They include launching targeted strikes in certain factories, then possibly increasing the number of strikes depending on the state of negotiations.

“We will hit all three companies, a historic first, initially in a limited number of targeted locations that we will announce. Then, depending on how the negotiations progress, we will announce more local sections that will be called upon to intervene. stand up and strike,” Fain said Wednesday during a Facebook Live.

Fain called the union’s plans a “standing strike,” a nod to the historic “sit-down” strikes led by the UAW in the 1930s.

Although “historic,” targeted strikes could have unintended ripple effects. It is not clear what impact one plant will have on others. These actions could also potentially send non-striking union workers to the unemployment lines, if their state allows them to collect benefits due to unemployment following a strike.

What about lockouts?

Work stoppages also make it easier for companies to hire permanent replacement workers and even conduct factory lockouts, labor experts say.

The UAW’s strategy puts “a little bit of pressure on businesses,” but it also gives businesses “a lot more ability” to use such tactics, said Dennis Devaney, senior attorney at Clark Hill, a former council member. of directors of the National Labor Relations Board. .

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The UAW has never held a strike of this type before, because under the terms of the union’s national contracts with Detroit automakers, strikes at individual plants must be over local contracts, not national issues. But Fain said the UAW would strike local factories for national reasons.

(For context, the UAW as an organization has an “international” unit that operates a leader, or umbrella, for the local UAW units which all have their own contracts in addition to an agreement national.)

Generally, such actions would constitute a violation of contracts and could lead to litigation or a complaint to the NLRB. In 1998, for example, GM filed a lawsuit against the UAW, claiming that a bottleneck strike at two Michigan plants, which affected dozens of other company facilities, was illegal.

Strike fund

Carrying out targeted strikes can be complex because the impact of one plant on others is unclear. These actions could potentially send non-striking union workers to the unemployment lines, if their state allows them to collect benefits due to unemployment following a strike.

Targeted strikes will also save the union money because it won’t have to pay “strike pay” to as many members from its $825 million strike fund.

The fund pays each eligible member $500 per week, which would mean it would have enough money for about 11 weeks if all members went on strike. However, that doesn’t include healthcare costs the union would cover, such as temporary COBRA plans, which would likely drain the fund much faster.

Asked about the strike fund’s ability to support the union, Fain regularly spoke about how past union leaders led work stoppages without pay and the need for UAW members to stick together.

“No one is going to come and save us. No one can win this fight for us. Our greatest hope, and/or our only hope, is to stay together,” Fain said. “I will tell you this, I am at peace with the decision to strike if I have to because I know we are on the right side of this battle.”

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