As the UAW continues its historic strike against the Big Three Detroit automakers (GM, Ford, and Stellantis), reports indicate that the labor union is making progress towards reaching new agreements in negotiations. However, there remain major sticking points in hashing out the new contracts, with battery plant workers and pensions highlighted as two major hurdles. The UAW launched its initial strikes against all three automakers in September, marking the first time the union has called for simultaneous walkouts at each of the Big Three automakers.
According to a recent report from Reuters, one of the biggest issues in negotiations is covering present and future battery plants under the national UAW agreement. Just last week, GM agreed to include workers at Ultium Cells battery plants under the national UAW agreement, a major milestone that the UAW cites as the reason against expansion of the strike to include the GM Arlington plant in Texas, considered the most-profitable auto plant in the world. The details of how that agreement will work remain uncertain, given Ultium Cells facilities are operated under a joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solution. The UAW would need to organize workers at the facilities, and currently, neither Ford nor Stellantis have publicly agreed to match GM’s offer.
Another major hurdle in reaching a new agreement is finding a middle ground on pensions. The UAW is seeking to restore the retirement security provided prior to 2007, with defined benefit pension plans. The UAW and automakers have reportedly explored annuities as one possible approach to providing income security, with an investment option through the company-sponsored 401(k) savings plans.
Despite these lingering issues, progress is reportedly being made, with the Big Three automakers all agreeing to a base wage increase of 20 percent to 23 percent over the life of the four-year contract.
One estimate places the cost of the UAW strike to the U.S. economy at $5.5 billion so far. It’s estimated that 25,300 UAW members are currently striking, with the union membership including 146,000 workers across all three makes.