The United Auto Workers or UAW is taking steps to strengthen its position in contract negotiations with GM and the other Detroit Three automakers, now including an attempt to enlist the government on its side to apply more pressure in its favor.
The latest move, reported by Reuters, comes as the UAW pursues several significant negotiating goals as it works to hammer out a new four-year contract with the big car companies.
Under the aggressive leadership of the recently elected UAW president Shawn Fain and with a tightening labor market buttressing its position, the union is looking to win the current administration’s support by withholding its endorsement from President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign until it gets more government support for its demands.
Shawn Fain spent much of last week in Washington meeting with various representatives, including a brief sit-down with Biden, in an effort to drum up support for the UAW. Meanwhile, both Joe Biden and likely challenger Donald Trump are jockeying for UAW backing in their campaigns.
Trump zeroed in on a current sore spot for the UAW by calling recent EV mandates “crippling” and claiming Biden is “waging war on the U.S. auto industry.” The Biden campaign retorted with claims that the administration’s policies have led to the creation of over 120,000 new jobs in the auto sector and that Trump is “the most anti-union president in modern history.”
Beyond the Beltway wrangling, the UAW says strikes are still a possibility if the Detroit Three – GM, Ford, and Stellantis – fail to respond in a satisfactory manner. Shawn Fain asserts the position of workers has “regressed” and that auto sector employees currently face “a very uneven playing field right now.”
The UAW wants restoration of retiree benefits, cost-of-living pay adjustments, an end to the current seniority-based two-tier pay system, and unionization of GM’s Ultium battery plants. Retirement and COLA benefits were eliminated during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, while the new EV battery plants are mostly non-unionized.
The UAW recently signaled its willingness to strike if the Detroit Three reject the union’s demands. The last major strike by the United Auto Workers took place in 2019 when 48,000 GM employees stopped work for six weeks to get better wages and healthcare for temporary workers, among other demands. GM eventually conceded to many of the demands.
Meanwhile, the Biden White House has signaled that the President will not intervene directly in a UAW strike.
A much smaller UAW strike at the Clarios 12-volt battery plant in Ohio ended recently with the workers winning “a wage increase, a modern, flexible work schedule, and a significant ratification bonus.” Clarios supplies batteries to GM and other automakers.