NEWS

Automakers grow frustrated as new deadline looms


Striking members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) picket outside the GM’s Willow Run Distribution Center, in Bellville, Wayne County, Michigan, U.S., September 26, 2023.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

DETROIT – Tensions are rising and accusations are flying between the Detroit automakers and United Auto Workers, as the union threatens to expand U.S. plant strikes – marking two weeks of work stoppages and the dwindling likelihood of an imminent breakthrough.

The UAW is expected to announce additional strike targets at 10 a.m. ET Friday, barring substantial progress by in negotiations with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis for contracts covering some 146,000 autoworkers. UAW President Shawn Fain will host a Facebook Live event then to update members on the talks and identify additional strike locations, a source familiar with the talks said.

In the run-up, frustrations remain around key economic demands and what some see as a lack of urgency by the union to reach a deal, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Specifically, GM and Stellantis have grown increasingly frustrated by a lack of participation from Fain and what they say are delays in receiving counter proposals from the union, sources said.

The union set a new Friday deadline before holding any high-level meetings between Fain and the companies, the people said, raising questions about the union’s commitment to reaching a deal and ending the strikes. As of the Wednesday announcement, the UAW also hadn’t put forth counter proposals to offers made by the automakers roughly a week earlier, the people said.

The first high-level, “main table” talks between the union with Fain and the two automakers came only after that Wednesday announcement, in a late-afternoon meeting the same day with GM, without CEO Mary Barra, and a midday Thursday meeting with Stellantis, the sources said.

The union Thursday afternoon confirmed it submitted a counter offer to Stellantis during the meeting – giving the company less than 24 hours to respond ahead of the fresh deadline.

The lack of urgency is increasingly frustrating company negotiators, many of whom are more accustomed to around the clock bargaining to get a deal as soon as possible, the sources said. Such talks have been few and far between as Fain attempts to negotiate with all three companies at once, they said.

Fain has consistently said the union is available to negotiate 24/7, however the automakers have questioned his availability and the union’s tactics broadly, particularly in light of leaked private messages in which UAW communications director Jonah Furman described keeping the companies “wounded for months.”

A UAW spokesman declined to comment on the strategy, including on the union waiting a week to respond and giving Stellantis less than 24 hours to respond.

Concerns around the pace of talks follow similar claims by Fain and the union. Prior to initiating strikes on Sept. 15, Fain heavily criticized the automakers for failing to provide counter offers to the union’s proposals, which were first delivered to the companies in early August.

All three automakers say they’ve made substantial offers to the union. The deals on the table include hourly wage increases of roughly 20%, thousands of dollars in bonuses, and enhancements to the workers already-substantial benefits packages. Ford, for its part, has offered to reinstate prior cost-of-living adjustments to offset inflation.

But the UAW has demanded more, including 40% wage increases, an end to the “tier” system under which new hires spend several years working up to full wages, a 32-hour workweek, and benefits including additional time off and insurances about electric vehicles.

About 18,300 workers, or roughly 12.5% of the UAW members covered by its contracts with the Detroit automakers, are currently on strike.

On the picket lines

In recent days, union members on the picket lines have reported confrontations, intimidations with guns, hit-and-run vehicle accidents and vandalism of vehicles and company property.

Five people suffered minor injuries when they were hit by a vehicle that drove through the UAW’s picket line while leaving a GM parts facility in Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday. The vehicle was driven by a third-party contractor doing work for GM at the facility.

UAW members and workers at the Mopar Parts Center Line, a Stellantis Parts Distribution Center in Center Line, Michigan, picket outside the facility after walking off their jobs at noon on September 22, 2023. 

Matthew Hatcher | AFP | Getty Images

GM issued a statement saying that three contractors, including the driver, had been banned from its properties. It urged its other contractors and salaried employees to follow established safety procedures when crossing a UAW picket line.

Separately, Stellantis released a statement on Thursday accusing the UAW of mischaracterizing other incidents that did not – contrary to statements by Fain – involve replacement workers, or so-called “scabs.”

“Since the UAW expanded its strike to our parts distribution centers last Friday, we’ve witnessed an escalation of dangerous, and even violent, behavior by UAW picketers at several of those facilities, including slashing truck tires, jumping on vehicles, following people home and hurling racial slurs at dedicated Stellantis employees who are merely crossing the picket line to do their jobs,” the statement said.

The company said it has not hired any outside workers to replace striking UAW members: “Only current employees who are protecting our business and third parties making pick-ups and deliveries as they normally would are entering our facilities.”

The company called on Fain and other UAW leaders to help ensure the safety of all Stellantis employees, including those on the picket line.

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