By David Koenig | Associated Press
The United Auto Workers union is stepping up pressure on Detroit’s Big Three by threatening to expand its strike unless it sees major progress in contract negotiations by Friday.
In a video statement Monday evening, UAW President Shawn Fain said workers at more plants would join those now in the fifth day of strikes at three plants.
“We’re not going to wait forever while they drag this out…and we’re not kidding,” Fain said in announcing noon Friday Eastern Time as the deadline to escalate the strike unless he there is no “serious progress” in the talks. .
Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have said they want to end the strike and stopped short of directly criticizing the threat of escalation.
Mark Stewart, North American chief operating officer of Stellantis, Fiat Chrysler’s successor, said the company was still seeking common ground with the UAW.
“I hope we can do it by Friday,” Stewart said on CNBC.
GM said in a statement: “We continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible in the interests of our team members, customers, suppliers and communities across the United States. United. »
A Ford spokeswoman said Tuesday that negotiations were continuing, but provided no additional details.
In Washington, the Biden administration canceled plans to send acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior adviser Gene Sperling to Detroit this week to meet with the two sides, according to a White House official. Last week, President Joe Biden publicly supported the UAW and said officials could play a positive role.
The White House now believes that since the negotiations are taking place, “it is more productive for Sperling and Su to continue their discussions from Washington and allow the negotiations to move forward,” said the official, who spoke under the guise of anonymity to discuss private projects. .
Fain had dismissed the need for help from Washington, saying “this battle is not about the president,” and some Democrats opposed the White House’s involvement.
“I don’t think the president himself should intervene in these negotiations as he did during the railroad workers’ strike. He shouldn’t be at this table,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, whose congressional district includes part of southeast Michigan.
So far, the strike is limited to about 13,000 workers at a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio.
However, carmakers have warned there could be layoffs elsewhere as the strike cripples the sector’s supply chain.
GM warned Monday that the strike in Wentzville, near St. Louis, could force the company to close an assembly plant in Kansas City early this week. On Tuesday, the company said it plans to keep production in Kansas City for at least one more day.
The strike could soon begin to affect suppliers to the Big Three.
United States Steel Corp. said it was temporarily idling one of its blast furnaces in Granite City, Illinois, an indication that the company expects the strike to reduce demand for steel. There are about 1,450 workers at the site, most of whom are represented by the United Steelworkers Union, but the company said many workers would not be affected by the furnace shutdown.
The area’s congresswoman, Democrat Nikki Budzinski, said US Steel was using the strike as an excuse to idle the furnace. “Their attempt to blame this announcement on the United Auto Workers strike is a shameful attempt to pit workers against each other,” she said.
A parts supplier, CIE Newcor, told Michigan officials it expects a monthlong shutdown of four plants in the state starting Oct. 2 and putting nearly 300 workers out of work.
Jose Munoz, president and chief operating officer of South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Corp., told reporters Tuesday in Atlanta that auto parts makers would be disrupted by a lengthy strike. These problems could hurt production at non-union automakers, not just the Big Three, he said.
“The way the supply chain works today, everything is interconnected,” Munoz said. “It’s very difficult to have a supplier that works with just one (car manufacturer). So, one way or another, we will see disruptions in the supply chain that could impact businesses over time. »
The UAW is demanding wage increases of more than 30 percent over four years and other relief measures. The union says workers deserve a greater share of the record profits companies have posted as prices have risen sharply due to strong consumer demand and a limited supply of vehicles due to shortages of chips and other problems.
Companies say they can’t afford to meet the UAW’s demands because they need to invest those profits to help them transition to electric vehicles.
Unifor, the union that represents Canadian auto workers, extended negotiations with Ford Motor Co. by 24 hours Tuesday morning after receiving a “substantial offer” on a new labor contract just as the current agreement expired.
Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim in Washington, Jeff Amy in Atlanta and Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.