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Auto workers’ emotions – from excitement to fear and apprehension – are running high as their union, the United Auto Workers, launches an unprecedented strike against the Big Three automakers.
For the first time in history, the UAW is simultaneously attacking Detroit’s three major automakers after failing to reach an agreement on wages, pensions and other benefits with the automakers.
Under the bold gamble unveiled by UAW President Shawn Fain, workers at just three Midwest plants — a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Mo., a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio , and part of a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan – walked out. work Friday. They represent about 9 percent of the nearly 150,000 UAW members employed by the three companies.
Fain warned workers at other factories that they could be called upon to walk out at any time. He said the option of an all-member strike remained on the table.
Jerry Coleman, a longtime temporary worker working 70 hours a week at the Stellantis Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio, welcomed Fain’s tough rhetoric.
But Friday morning, as he walked to his union hall and then to the picket line, Coleman said he was disappointed by the strike.
“Honestly, I think he was gentle,” he said of Fain. “To get back what we lost, I think he would have had to hit six to 10 major factories and facilities to let them know, ‘Hey, look, this is serious!'”
If automakers want to play hardball, Coleman says, then play hardball.
Fain defended his strategy.
“It’s going to create confusion in businesses,” Fain told union activists earlier this week. “It’s going to keep them guessing about what might happen next, and it’s going to empower our negotiators to be as effective as possible.”
But this strategy has created some confusion and frustration among workers, especially those whose factories are not yet on strike.
Working under an expired contract
Comments on the UAW Facebook page range from “What’s the point of a strike if we don’t ALL strike at the same time?!” to “So much the worse for solidarity”. Others have expressed concern that their jobs could be at risk now that their contracts have expired.
The UAW attempted to allay those fears by releasing a video ahead of the strike explaining that most contract terms remain in effect, including that management must still negotiate with the union over any changes to wages, hours or working conditions. work.
“They don’t become at-will employees just because their contract expired,” says Sharon Block, executive director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy at Harvard Law.
As someone who has followed labor movements for decades, Block says she was intrigued to see Fain choose to strike all three automakers at the same time, but limited to one plant in each to start.
“I think it gives him maximum flexibility at this point where they’re really at the beginning of this new phase of their negotiations,” she says.
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Confidence in the UAW president’s strategy
There was a shared sense of excitement Friday outside the striking factories, with crowds clapping and chanting, drivers honking in support, and only occasional hecklers yelling at people to return to work.
“I really trust Shawn Fain right now, and I think he has a good plan. I don’t think he’s just doing it with his pants down,” said Kyle Bendert, who works on the engine line at the Ford factory. in Wayne, Michigan.
Bendert expressed concern that the $500 per week strike pay is far less than his usual salary. But, he said, it will be worth it if the UAW delivers the contracts workers deserve.
“Working in the Big Three was the best job you could get in manufacturing. And now we’re living paycheck to paycheck,” he says.
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Target factories that make popular cars
Even with just three factories on strike, the economic impacts could quickly become significant given the popularity of the vehicles they produce, says Tyler Theile, vice president and director of public policy at Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, Michigan.
The remarkable Stellantis factory makes Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators. The remarkable Ford factory makes Ford Broncos and Rangers. The notable GM plant produces the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and two different minivans, according to the UAW.
Theile’s group estimates that a 10-day work stoppage could result in the loss of 25,000 vehicles from the lines of these three factories.
“This is not a coincidence. These are vehicles that consumers want and need, and these are factories where production volumes are high and efficient,” she says.
It should be noted, however, that the factory that produces the best-selling Ford F-150 truck has not yet been the target of a strike, nor has the UAW chosen to pull out of Ford’s factories. engines or other spare parts that could have a direct impact on a larger number of people. other facilities.
To keep hope
Coleman, who earns $19.76 an hour after five and a half years at the Stellantis plant in Toledo, says that despite his initial disappointment with the scale of the strike, he still has confidence in Fain.
“I think he’ll hold up,” he said. “These big companies don’t understand how much stress and pain we put on our bodies and how much we miss our family’s lives.”
But Fain does it, he says, and that’s important.