UAW Negotiations and the Growing Frustration of Automakers

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

United Auto Workers is threatening to expand plant strikes in the United States, which would mean two weeks of work stoppages and a decreasing chance of an immediate breakthrough. Tensions between the union and the Detroit automakers are building, and allegations are flying.

At 10 a.m. ET on Friday, assuming significant progress in discussions with General Motors, Ford Motor, and Stellantis over contracts encompassing approximately 146,000 autoworkers, the UAW is anticipated to declare more strike objectives. According to a person involved with the negotiations, UAW President Shawn Fain would then do a Facebook Live session to inform members about the discussions and reveal potential locations for further strikes.

In the run-up, sources with knowledge of the talks who spoke anonymously because the discussions are confidential expressed misgivings about important economic demands and what some perceive as a lack of urgency by the union to strike a settlement.

According to sources, GM and Stellantis have become progressively more irritated with Fain’s lack of involvement and what they perceive to be delays in obtaining counterproposals from the union.

According to the persons, the union imposed a new deadline of Friday before convening any high-level talks between Fain and the employers, which raised doubts about the union’s resolve to come to an agreement and put an end to the strikes. The persons stated that as of the announcement on Wednesday, the manufacturers’ offers had not been met by the UAW with counteroffers. This was around a week prior.

Following that declaration on Wednesday, the union held its first high-level “main table” discussions with Fain and the two automakers. The sources added that on that same day, GM held a late-afternoon meeting without CEO Mary Barra, and on Thursday, Stellantis hosted a lunchtime meeting.

The union acknowledged on Thursday afternoon that it had presented Stellantis with a counteroffer during the meeting, giving the business less than twenty-four hours to react before the new deadline.

According to insiders, firm negotiators are becoming more and more frustrated with the lack of urgency because many of them are used to negotiating nonstop to close a transaction as quickly as possible. They claimed that because Fain is attempting to negotiate with all three corporations at once, these conversations have been few and far between.

Despite Fain’s repeated statements that the union is ready to negotiate around the clock, the automakers have expressed doubts about both his availability and the union’s overall strategies, especially in light of leaked private correspondence in which UAW Communications Director Jonah Furman spoke of keeping the companies “wounded for months.”

A UAW spokeswoman declined to comment on the approach, citing among other things that Stellantis was given less than 24 hours to answer, and the union was given a week to respond.

Similar allegations by Fain and the union are followed by worries about the speed of the negotiations. Fain harshly chastised the automakers for not coming up with counteroffers to the union’s demands, which were initially presented to the businesses in early August, before the strikes began on September 15.

The union has reportedly received significant proposals from all three automakers. The agreements on the table include bonuses worth thousands of dollars, increases in hourly wages of almost 20%, and improvements to the workers’ already generous benefit packages. In an effort to combat inflation, Ford has offered to restore previous cost-of-living adjustments.

However, the UAW has asked for more, such as a 32-hour workday, 40% pay increases, the elimination of the “tier” system, which requires new workers to work for several years before receiving full pay, and benefits like longer time off and insurance for electric vehicles.

Currently on strike are about 18,300 workers or about 12.5% of the UAW members covered by its contracts with the Detroit automakers.

UAW’s picket line

Recent reports of hit-and-run incidents, gun-wielding intimidations, altercations, and damage to company vehicles and property have come from union members manning the picket lines.

When a car passed through the UAW’s picket line on Wednesday as it was leaving a GM parts facility in Flint, Michigan, five persons were struck and received minor injuries. A third-party contractor working at the site for GM was operating the car.

Three contractors, including the driver, had been barred from using GM’s properties, according to a statement the company released. It advised its other contractors and paid staff to cross a UAW picket line according to established safety protocols.

In a separate statement, Stellantis accused the UAW of misrepresenting other incidences that did not involve replacement workers, or so-called “scabs,” despite what Fain had said. This was released on Thursday.

According to the statement, “Since the UAW expanded its strike to our parts distribution centers last Friday, we’ve witnessed an escalation of dangerous, and even violent, behavior by UAW picketers at several of those facilities, including slashing truck tires, jumping on vehicles, following people home and hurling racial slurs at dedicated Stellantis employees who are merely crossing the picket line to do their jobs.”

The company declared that it had not substituted any external employees for the striking UAW members: “Only current employees who are protecting our business and third parties making pick-ups and deliveries as they normally would are entering our facilities.”

Fain and other UAW leaders were urged by the company to assist in guaranteeing the security of all Stellantis workers, including those present at the picket line.

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