By TOM KRISHER and DAVID KOENIG (AP Auto Writers)
DETROIT (AP) — The United Auto Workers union says it will strike at three vehicle assembly plants as it pressures Detroit companies to come up with better pay and benefit offers.
The factories include a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit; and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio. Only assembly and paint shop workers will leave the Ford plant.
The contracts between 146,000 workers in the automotive sector and the companies will expire on Thursday at 11:59 p.m. Workers will remain in place at all other plants.
“Time is of the essence,” union President Shawn Fain told workers Thursday night in an online speech less than two hours before the deadline.
Despite increased offers from Ford and GM, it appears no deal will be reached before the contracts expire.
Fain said that for the first time in the union’s 88-year history, the UAW will strike at all three companies at the same time. He said union negotiators have been working hard but have been steadfast in trying to reach fair agreements.
About 13,000 workers at the three plants are preparing to walk off the job after contracts with the Detroit Three expire at 11:59 p.m.
Fain has said more strikes could be scheduled if the companies do not make progress in negotiations. Companies, he said, have made billions in profits over the past decade and can afford to pay workers more to make up for concessions made starting in 2007 to help automakers through tough times. He says labor costs are only 4% to 5% of the cost of a vehicle.
“They could double our increases and not raise car prices and still make millions of dollars in profits,” Fain said. “We are not the problem. “Corporate greed is the problem.”
The union has a list of demands that include pay increases of 36% over four years, cost-of-living increases and an end to different pay levels for workers. Ford and GM are offering 20% during the next contract, while the last known offer from Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, was 17.5%.
The companies say the union has not responded to their latest offers and have called the union demands unreasonable. They fear taking on higher costs at a time when they have to spend billions to develop and build new electric vehicles, while making cars with internal combustion engines.
The Ford plant attacked employs about 3,300 striking workers and makes Bronco SUVs and Ranger midsize pickup trucks.
The Toledo Jeep complex has about 5,800 workers and manufactures the Jeep Wrangler SUV and the Gladiator pickup truck.
GM’s Wentzville plant has about 3,600 workers and makes the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup trucks, as well as the GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express full-size pickup trucks.
The union didn’t go after the companies’ big cash cows, which are full-size pickup trucks and large SUVs, and focused more on plants that make vehicles with lower profit margins, said Marick Masters, a professor of business from Wayne State University in Detroit.
“They want to give businesses some space without putting them against the wall,” Masters said. “They are not being cornered. “You put an animal in a corner and it is dangerous.”
Masters said companies will have to increase their wage offers in order to reach an agreement and address the issue of wage levels and how to convert temporary workers into full-time jobs.
In a statement Thursday night, Ford said the union responded to the company’s latest “historically generous” offer by showing little movement on its initial demands.
“If implemented, the proposal would more than double Ford’s current UAW-related labor costs, which are already significantly higher than the labor costs of Tesla, Toyota and other foreign-owned automakers in the United States that use manual labor.” of work not represented by unions. ”the statement said.
On CNBC Thursday, Ford CEO Jim Farley said that if Ford had agreed to the union’s demands, it would have lost $15 billion over the past decade and gone bankrupt.
The announcement and the impending strikes capped a day in which both sides complained that the other had not moved enough from their initial positions. But talks continued Thursday with GM raising its wage offer and Ford seeking a counteroffer from the union.
The chasm between the two sides could be a shock to a U.S. economy already under pressure from high inflation. It’s also proof of President Joe Biden’s cherished claim that he is the most pro-union president in American history.
In a video released Thursday night, GM manufacturing chief Gerald Johnson said the union initially filed more than 1,000 lawsuits that he said would cost more than $100 billion. “That’s not reasonable,” Johnson said. “It is more than double the value of all of General Motors and is absolutely impossible to absorb and continue to compete in today’s automotive market.”
If there is no agreement by the end of Thursday, Fain said union leaders will not negotiate on Friday and instead join workers on picket lines.
The UAW began by demanding increases of 40% over the life of a four-year contract, or 46% when compounded annually. The companies’ initial offers were well below those figures.
In addition to cost-of-living wage increases and an end to varying pay levels for factory jobs, he wants a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay, the restoration of traditional defined benefit pensions for new employees who they now receive only 401(k)-style retirement plans, retiree pension increases, and other items.
Companies have increased their initial salary offers: Ford and GM now offer 20%, and GM offers 10% for the first year. Stellantis has made another offer following its last known offer of 17.5%.
“We know that a strong GM is important to all of us,” GM CEO Mary Barra wrote in a letter to workers Thursday. “We are working urgently and have proposed another increasingly stronger offer with the aim of reaching an agreement tonight.”