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Union talks, strike continue

UAW, carmakers still at odds in contract negotiations by COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS | September 17, 2023 at 3:51 a.m.

WAYNE, Mich. -- Negotiations resumed Saturday between the United Auto Workers union and the Detroit Three automakers as the union's strike against three major plants went into its second day.

The UAW said it had "a reasonably productive" conversation with Ford Motor Co.

Ford Chief Communications Officer Mark Truby said in a statement that the automaker's leaders "are committed to reaching an agreement with UAW that rewards our workers and allows Ford to invest in the future. We have to win together."

Meanwhile, Stellantis NV said it offered the UAW nearly 21% compounded wage increase and a pathway to "resolve" Belvidere Assembly Plant, the former Jeep Cherokee factory in north-central Illinois that was idled at the end of February, but that the proposal was only on the table until the contract expired at midnight Thursday. The automaker said it will meet with the union Monday.

UAW President Shawn Fain said the move is evidence the company sees workers as "a bargaining chip."

"Belvidere Assembly was a profitable plant that just a few years ago supported around 5,000 workers and their families," he said. "Now that number is zero, and Stellantis wants to keep playing games. Their attitude is: Stellantis giveth, and Stellantis taketh away. Our attitude is: Save Belvidere."

Some 12,700 UAW members -- or roughly 8% of the union's autoworkers -- are on strike at a Stellantis plant in Toledo, at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Mo., and at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich. The last national auto strike was against GM in 2019.

The union and companies remain far apart on pay and benefits in their weeks-long contract negotiations, with the union demanding a 36% wage increase over four years.

Full-time UAW workers earn between $18 and $32 an hour, along with profit-sharing payments and other bonuses. During the four years of the just-expired contract, full-timers were "eligible" for total profit-sharing payments of $44,700, Stellantis said Saturday. Ford says its average full-timer received $75,000 of profit-sharing payments over the past 10 years.

Temporary workers earn lower hourly wages, around $16 to $19 an hour, and aren't eligible for profit-sharing or other bonuses. And they often get stuck in temp status for years. The companies have proposed raising their starting wages to $20 an hour. Ford has proposed converting all existing temps to full-time status within 90 days.

Justin Bowden, 39, a Ford frame line worker and father of four from Detroit, said he signed up to work at the Michigan plant less than a year ago because he was "under the impression this was a good job, seeing my father work at Chrysler when I was young." His father was able to buy his own house and several rental properties.

"Back then, it was better," concluded Bowden, a renter who makes $18 an hour and works a second job stocking shelves at Dollar Tree. "Right now, it's not too good. You have to have two jobs."

The automakers argue that they are offering better wage increases and benefits than they have in decades. Ford calls its offer the best in 80 years. General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Friday told CBS News that the company's offer is "a record from a gross-wage perspective in our 115-year history."

But she said GM cannot meet all of the union's demands while remaining profitable. Those demands include a 32-hour workweek, defined-benefit pensions for all workers instead of 401(k) accounts, and company-financed health care in retirement.


Outside Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant at midday, workers' energy remained high even at the end of a six-hour shift. Volunteers brought stacks of Little Caesars pizzas and Tim Hortons donuts to fuel picketers, and passing traffic honked in support.

Brian Poling, an hourly worker for UAW International, and his wife, Carrie, brought their daughters Kaylee, 7, and Zoe, 4, out to show their support.

"I want them to know that when they grow up, they can get a good job with good wages and good health care, that they can get by without going paycheck to paycheck by doing an honest day's work," he said. "The UAW and other unions are the way to get there."

Savon Hubbard, 46, and Keyona Clark, 24, work across from each other as sanders in the paint department. They say they're particularly frustrated by stagnant wages, but they're committed to striking for all of the union's major priorities -- eliminating tiers, restoring cost-of-living adjustments, guaranteed pensions and more.

Being one of the first plants to go on strike "is scary for sure," Hubbard said, because the $500 per week workers are getting from the union to remain on strike isn't enough to sustain their livelihoods for long.

"Hopefully they get everything together before too long," he said. But he said he likes Fain's strategy of a rolling strike, adding new plants the longer negotiations continue. "He's playing chess right now. He's not letting them know the next move. He's shutting it down piece by piece. So I like how he's playing it."

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters and Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, both Democrats, arrived at the line shortly before noon to offer their support for workers.

"What's it like to hear all the support behind you? It's amazing," Fetterman told Audrey Hinchman, who works on the line at the Ford plant. "I don't think they're honking for the CEOs."

"No, it's for us," she responded, smiling.

Fetterman, who drove more than four hours in his Ford Bronco from Pittsburgh to visit the picket line, said he lives across from a steel mill. "It's a union town as well. I always stand for unions."

Peters, coming out to the picket line for the second day, said the negotiations are particularly important as the auto industry shifts to electric vehicles.

"Certainly a big part of this conversation is to make sure, as we make the transition to EVs, that we have union workers making those vehicles in the battery plants and throughout the supply chain," he said. "It's an important thing that we stand behind."


Some 2,600 nonstriking GM and Ford workers will be temporarily laid off in the coming days, the auto companies warned, because those facilities depend on work from the plants that are on strike. On Friday, Ford announced it would temporarily lay off 600 workers at Michigan Assembly Plant.

GM and Ford said the layoffs were a direct consequence of the strike, which is depriving nonstriking plants of materials. The laid-off workers will not be eligible for the usual unemployment benefits the companies pay when they idle any of their plants, both companies said. GM said this was because they are working under an expired contract.

"We have said, repeatedly, that nobody wins in a strike, and that effects go well beyond our employees on the plant floor and negatively impact our customers, suppliers and the communities where we do business," GM said in a statement Friday.

Hinchman said she is "not happy" with the automaker's move to lay off the nonstriking workers: "They should be brought out here and get strike pay like the rest of us."

Fain said Friday evening that nonstriking workers laid off as a result of the strike may be eligible for strike pay. "It just depends on the scenario," he said. "Some people qualify for unemployment, some people don't."

"Our members are going to be taken care of no matter what happens," he added.

The Republican National Committee weighed in on the strike Saturday, tying ongoing negotiations to reports that the Michigan Legislature is considering ending session in November to allow the upcoming presidential primary election to take place in late February.

"While the state's economy hangs in balance, [Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer and [President Joe] Biden's warped priorities are clear," Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. "If Democrats truly cared about Michigan autoworkers, the legislature would commit to remaining in session until a solution is found to end this strike."

Former President Barack Obama also issued a statement in support of the strike Saturday. When the Detroit Three were struggling to survive amid the 2009 recession, he said, the UAW "sacrificed pay and benefits to help get the companies back on their feet."

"Now that our carmakers are enjoying robust profits, it's time to do right by those same workers so the industry can emerge more united and competitive than ever."

Information for this article was contributed by Riley Beggin of The Detroit News (TNS); and by Jeanne Whalen and Lauren Kaori Gurley of The Washington Post.

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