UAW president on contract talks: ‘We’re ready to get our economic justice’

UAW President Shawn Fain spoke to WDET about a potential strike if the union doesn’t reach a new deal with Detroit’s automakers.

FILE - United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain talks with autoworkers outside the General Motors Factory Zero plant in Hamtramck, Mich., July 12, 2023.

FILE - United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain talks with autoworkers outside the General Motors Factory Zero plant in Hamtramck, Mich., July 12, 2023.

Members of the United Auto Workers are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike if it does not reach a new contract with Detroit’s automakers before the current deal ends next month.

Union leaders say they made concessions to help keep Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (then-Chrysler) financially afloat more than a decade ago.

Now the UAW wants pay raises, 32-hour work weeks and better retiree pensions, among other demands.

Automakers say the demands are unrealistic, but the hundreds of UAW members who gathered for a rally in Warren earlier this week disagree.

UAW President Shawn Fain says union members are ready to walk the picket lines if necessary.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Shawn Fain: You can see by the attendance and the attitudes of people [that] they’re fed up. It just says we’re united. We had our first direct election in union history in our lifetimes and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. And we’ve had four short months. We’ve done a lot in four months. And I think we put the election behind, I think the membership is ready to move forward. We’re ready to get our economic justice and get to work for the working class. So our members are ready.

Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: You said going on strike was not your plan but that you’re prepared for it. Do you think you have enough strike funds and everything else necessary for members to stay out for a while?

Trust me, we got a lot of smart people. And we’re gonna do [what] we got to do. The strike funds may be a topic you might want to talk about. But at the end of the day, go back to the [union’s] founders. They didn’t have a strike fund — they did what they had to do to get their fair share. And I know our membership’s willing to do that. So the strike fund is nice, the benefits are nice, but at the end of the day we’re going to stay out one day longer.

These companies, if they want to not make product, if they want to submarine all these profits they’ve made over the years, then that’s up to them. And if they choose to do so, then we’re going to do what we have to do and our membership is ready to do it. That’s why we gave them a preview of our demands so that they know up front what we expect. We’re trying to be proactive in this and not wait until the last minute [since] there’s a lot of things we got to resolve. And as I’ve told them from day one, if your plan is to wait ‘til the week before the deadline, then there’s gonna be problems.

We go back to our saying, “record profits equal record contracts.” They’ve been living there for a long time and our members keep going backwards. It’s got to stop. We want our standards in this transition to EVs. If we don’t get these standards, everyone’s going to lose — this whole country is going to lose. It’s imperative that we have good labor standards, especially when our tax dollars are financing that.

President Biden has called for both sides to try to seek a fair deal. What’s your impression of what the president’s been doing in regards to the contract negotiations and the possibility of a strike?

Well, I’m glad to see it. I appreciate the comment. I’m glad that he weighed in on it. It’s a good start. But we got a long way to go. So we’ll see how things transpire. And we’ll see where the support is as we continue to be in this.

Ford officials say they may have white collar workers come do some parts supply work in the event of a strike. What do you think that’s going to do one way or the other for the overall negotiations?

I think it’s a joke. They can try it but it ain’t gonna work. So I wish them luck. But at the end of the day, doing that just shows that maybe they’re not serious about getting an agreement. I guess we’ll see. It’s a shame to see that but it would be comical. I’d like to have a chair to watch those people try to run plants and try to run the work. The good part of that is they’ll realize how hard our members work.

Editor’s note: Some employees of WDET are members of UAW Local 1979 — a different bargaining group that’s unaffected by these negotiations.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.