US car workers threaten to expand Detroit strikes

Receive free Ford Motor Co updates

The United Auto Workers are planning to expand their strike against Detroit carmakers on Friday unless there is “serious progress” at the bargaining table in the union’s dispute over pay, its leader said.

UAW president Shawn Fain said on Monday that carmakers were to blame for delays in negotiations and the union would not stand by “while they drag this out”.

“We’re not waiting around, and we’re not messing around,” he said.

The move would broaden industrial action beyond the 13,000 workers at three plants — run by Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — who went on strike last Friday. It marked the first time in its history that UAW workers walked out of factories at all three automakers at once.

The UAW is demanding higher wages for nearly 150,000 members who work at the three companies. Its campaign is part of a broader battle to protect workers through the transition to clean energy and electric vehicles, which the union estimates could cost 35,000 jobs.

The threat of a US escalation comes as Ford faces the possibility of a strike in Canada as well, with 5,700 workers threatening to walk out of the company’s Canadian plants when their contract expires at midnight.

Lana Payne, president of Unifor, the union that represents about 18,000 workers at the three big carmakers in Canada, said talks with Ford had been “constructive”, but not enough progress had been made on priorities such as pensions and wage increases.

“Our team will continue to bargain with Ford Motor Company right up until the deadline,” she said. “At that point, if this master committee cannot come to terms on a final settlement . . . we will be on strike.”

Unifor’s members are spread among parts facilities, a Ford Ontario assembly plant that makes the crossover Edge and luxury sport utility vehicle Lincoln Nautilus, and two plants located just beyond the Detroit River, which divides the US and Canada, that make engines for the Mustang and the company’s bestselling F-series trucks.

“This is as serious as it gets,” Payne added. “Ours is a small but highly consequential footprint in Ford North America, and this is our leverage, and we will use it.”

Ford did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Unlike the UAW, which has taken on all three carmakers at once, Unifor has taken a more traditional approach to bargaining in the North American auto industry. Unifor picked Ford as the company to target first and, after reaching a contract with it, intends to try to secure similar contracts with GM and Stellantis.

Payne said last month when the union kicked off bargaining with Ford that members’ expectations were “high”. The union wants to protect pensions, land “substantial” wage increases and secure more investment in Canadian plants.

“Profits are up and so is the cost of living,” she told reporters last month. “Workers have shown time and time again that they are prepared to fight — and to strike, if necessary — to have their demands met. This is the moment we are in. And no one, no one, should underestimate it.”

The union is also demanding company support for workers as the industry transitions to electric vehicles, a concern the UAW shares.

Tesla, the leader in EV sales, has fired workers who have attempted to organise in its US plants. EV batteries that the Detroit carmakers are set to make come from joint ventures with South Korean manufacturers that employ non-union labour.

“We are insisting that every EV and EV-related job is a good union job,” Payne said, “with the same rights and employment terms as auto workers enjoy today.”


Business Asia
the authorBusiness Asia

Leave a Reply