By Jane Slaughter
Since 1979, unionized auto workers have experienced one compromise after another. Those days are over. On Wednesday, the union’s 41st day of a stand-up strike against the Big Three, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fine announced a deal with Ford. The gains in terms of contracts are substantial.
The union added the straw that broke the camel’s back on Monday and Tuesday at SUV and truck assembly plants in Texas and Michigan, General Motors and Stellandis, two major sources of revenue. [voir les articles publiés sur ce site les 13 et 24 octobre]. Workers at Kentucky Truck, Ford’s main cash cow, had already walked off the job on October 11.
Ford gave up on Wednesday, October 25, instead of seeing the next domino fall: the giant Ford River Rouge, based in Dearborn, Michigan, manufactures the best-selling F-150 model in the United States.
The union’s strategy has always pitted the Big Three automakers against each other. The strike began on September 15 with a call for a walkout at the same factory by three major groups (Ford, GM. Stellantis). The union ramped up mobilization weekly, with negotiators “rewarding” companies that accepted the union’s concessions by avoiding further strikes and making concessions to companies that were reluctant.
Regain lost ground
In 1979, the UAW renegotiated its contract with Chrysler, ushering in the modern era of soft union contracts by accepting concessions halfway through (a four-year contract). Emboldened, employers rushed to acquire more, and union contracts throughout the labor movement continued to deteriorate thereafter.
With a few exceptions, the history of the UAW since 1979, and especially since 2007, has been one of continuous concessions, even when the situation was relatively favorable. This year, under new leadership (Sean Fein, elected in March 2023), the union finally began to regain lost ground.
The union’s demands are ambitious, including a 40% pay raise to match CEO pay raises. He even put forward a demand for 32 hours of work for 40 hours of pay. Sean Fein often appeared in an “End Tires” T-shirt – when he wasn’t singing “Eat the Rich” – a radical demand for equal pay for equal work.
Although it’s an “unregulated negotiation topic” that companies can’t be forced under labor law, Sean Fine has proposed binding the new Big 3 electric vehicle (EV) factories into master contract agreements, which are essential for the future. Gathering The union seems to have succeeded in this aspect at GM.
Deep hole filling
While the union’s wage demands may seem important, they actually make up for lost time. In repeated sit-ins, auto workers have explained, “We are trying to get back what we sacrificed.” This is to fill a very deep hole.
Full details of the tentative agreement will be shared Sunday, Oct. 29, with the union’s Ford Council, where local representatives can vote to ratify it, and then with Facebook Live members, who will discuss and vote at local meetings held over several weeks. “Features” shall refer to the text of the Agreement by version principle. It is sure to include both great successes and disappointments.
UAW Vice President Chuck Browning said striking Ford plants will return to work pending ratification votes, while striking GM and Stellantis workers will remain on strike. Following a strategy of pitting companies against each other, Ford must allow its competitors to return to profitability while they continue to “bleed out.” “The last thing they want is for Ford to go back to full production when they’re down,” Chuck Browning said.
Whatever the shape of the provisional agreement, we hear from Sean Féin’s weekly report to members via Facebook Live that the strikes have already made significant gains. Before this week’s mobilization, as of October 20, at least one of the big three automakers had agreed:
- Integrate battery and electric vehicle industries into framework agreement (at GM)
- Reduce the time for new hires to earn full salary to three years (instead of eight).
- 23% increase in salary by May 1, 2028
- To grant permanent worker status (CTI) to existing temporary workers (but with the possibility of hiring others)
- To recover salary index for cost of living
- Increase the starting pay for temporary workers to $21 an hour, instead of $16 to $17 an hour.
- Remove the lower wage bracket for non-assembly plants and raise their wages to the full rate
- Provide two weeks of paid parental leave
- The right to strike should be recognized in case of factory closure
- To increase the company’s contribution to the 401(k) plan [système de retraite par capitalisation] 9.5% and $1.25/hr.
- Prospective retirees (hired before 2007 and still in service) will receive a $3 per month pension increase based on number of years of service.
The Ford deal is still to be ratified
Last night, October 25, Shawn Fein announced a 25% salary increase over the four-and-a-half years of the Ford collective agreement (including an immediate 11%), as well as cost-of-living allowances, profit-sharing and recognition bonuses. The contract offers a 68% increase in the starting salary for a permanent worker, to more than $28 an hour. Ford has promised to update retirees whether they have a pension or a 401(k) plan, but details won’t be released until Sunday.
Chuck Browning will increase the salary of current temporary workers by 150% for the life of the contract (for the life of the contract), as they become permanent workers. Workers at two printing factories, who were recently downgraded to a lower level, will receive an immediate 85% hike as their wages have been eliminated.
A worker with three years’ seniority at Ford explained that, according to current progress spanning eight years, he is now making less than half of his full salary. When he returns to work after the strike, he will immediately transition to full pay of about $32 an hour plus an 11 percent raise.
Information should be obtained about working conditions such as pensioner benefits, electric vehicle factories, earnings for future temporary workers and possible restrictions on hiring temporary workers in the future, timetables for increases and mandatory overtime.
Meanwhile, negotiations at GM and Stellantis are expected to pick up pace, especially as their most profitable factories are on strike. (Article published by Labor Notes, October 26, 2023; Translation writing vs)
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