The United Auto Workers union is striking against Detroit’s automakers after the two sides failed to reach a deal before the original contracts expired Thursday night.
A lot has changed since the UAW’s last contract with Ford, Stellantis and General Motors was signed in 2019. The union is now under the leadership of its first member-elected president, Shawn Fain, who was on the picket line at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne shortly after midnight Friday morning.
“We’re going to be out here until we get our share of economic justice,” Fain said outside the plant. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes. That’s up to the companies.”
A fund totaling $825 million will provide strike pay for UAW members at $500 per week.
Listen: Workers go on strike outside Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant
UAW adopts new strike tactic with staggered work stoppages
The method for work stoppages represents a new tactic for the union under Fain’s leadership. Instead of striking against one automaker at a time, the UAW has stopped work at three plants — one belonging to each of the Big 3.
The impacted facilities are a GM plant in Missouri, Stellantis’ Jeep factory in Toldeo, Ohio and Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant. They account for around 13,000 workers.
But on the first night of picketing, it was more than just the Local 900 members employed at Ford’s Wayne facility on hand. Represented workers from other plants were out in force too, like Bill Bagwell.
“I’ve been a member for 38 years,” says Bagwell. “I work at General Motors Local 174 in Ypsilanti.”
Bagwell has been around unions for decades. He says he has faith in the new leadership.
“Heck, I stood behind criminal leaders,” he says. “Why wouldn’t I stand behind leaders that are honest and true and telling me what’s happening?”
What the union demands from automakers
One thing the UAW bargaining teams want to see is higher wages for its members. Emphasizing this point, Fain has frequently underscored that car company executives make hundreds of times more than what assembly line workers do.
Scott Haarz has been a UAW member for over two years. He earns about $23 an hour, which he says isn’t enough.
“If we don’t get overtime, we’re struggling paycheck to paycheck,” says Haarz. “And even with overtime, we shouldn’t be expected to work 50-60 hours to be able to maintain our lives.”
Cost of living adjustments are also something Haarz and his colleagues want — an item the union has been pushing, along with a return to traditional pensions.
“I’m not signing anything if they don’t protect the retirees,” says UAW member Marie Felice.
Picketing alongside Felice, Hass Beydoun echoes the sentiment.
“The people who retired 30 years ago — the people who retire now are getting the same pay,” Beydoun says. “How is that fair?”
Felice and Beydoun also want higher wages and say corporate greed is the reason why they don’t have them already.
How the automakers are responding
The UAW is demanding an end to the two-tiered wage system. Ford says they’re willing to end the practice, while GM and Stellantis have been hesitant to do the same in their proposals.
In a message to employees this week, GM executive Gerald Johnson says the automaker is willing to shorten the amount of time for new workers to reach vested status.
“We have promoted and welcomed 6,000 flexible workers to full employment over the past four years,” Johnson said, “Our offer cuts progression time in half. Plus, a $20 per hour wage rate for flexible workers.”
GM CEO Mary Barra told news outlets this morning that she was “frustrated” over the strike.
Executives from both Ford and GM have called their wage proposals “historic.” Stellantis says the UAW hasn’t negotiated in a responsible manner. Fain accused the Big 3 of not taking negotiations seriously until it was too late to avoid a strike.
Contract talks between the UAW and car companies are expected to resume after Friday.
Editor’s note: Some employees of WDET are members of UAW Local 1979 — a different bargaining group that’s unaffected by these negotiations.