Little progress in talks to end the UAW strike against three Detroit automakers

Little progress in talks to end the UAW strike against three Detroit automakers

The United Auto Workers and Detroit’s three major automakers largely held their ground Sunday and appeared no closer to an agreement than they did on Friday, when autoworkers went on strike.

“If we don’t get better deals and address the needs of members, then we’re going to intensify this,” Shawn Fain, president of the UAW 150,000 members, said in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

In a separate interview on MSNBC, Mr. Fain said negotiations had progressed slowly.

The union held talks with Ford on Saturday. On Sunday it went back to the negotiating table with General Motors and talks with Stellantis – the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram – were planned for Monday, a spokesman said.

The union is pushing for a 40 percent wage increase over four years, improved pension benefits and shorter working hours, and an end to a tiered pay system that requires new hires to be paid far lower than the UAW’s top wage of $32 an hour.

Detroit automakers, which are spending billions of dollars to transition to electric vehicles, say paying significantly higher wages would put them at a disadvantage compared to both Tesla and their foreign electric competitors.

The union has taken two unusual steps to enforce its demands. It targeted all three Detroit companies — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis — simultaneously, rather than focusing on one as a proxy for the other two, as has been the case in previous labor actions. And instead of authorizing a full-scale strike, the union opted for a “limited and targeted” work stoppage by about 12,700 workers.

One point of contention highlighted throughout the day on Saturday was an assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois, that Stellantis shut down earlier this year. Saving the Belvidere plant is one of Mr. Fain’s biggest priorities. He said it was a profitable facility with thousands of workers just a few years ago, but “Stellantis wants to keep going.”

On Saturday, a senior Stellantis executive said the company had proposed “job security” for about 1,350 people who lost their jobs at the facility, but the offer was taken off the table when the strike began. And in an email late Saturday, Stellantis criticized the union for its characterization of discussions about the Belvidere plant.

“Our intent was to present a strong proposal for Belvidere while avoiding a strike by our represented workers,” Stellantis said in the email. “The truth is that the UAW leadership ignored Belvidere in favor of a strike. We are ready to get everyone back to work as quickly as possible.”

The UAW said its request for 40 percent pay increases over four years is consistent with increasing salaries for company CEOs. The companies have proposed a wage increase of about half what the union is demanding, arguing that the billions of dollars they have invested in electric vehicles make it difficult to support higher wages than those they are offering.

Although the strike has been limited so far, a prolonged strike could complicate the Federal Reserve’s efforts to combat inflation by driving up the cost of new cars as fewer are produced. The union has targeted plants that produce some of the automakers’ most profitable trucks: a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, that makes the GMC Canyon and the Colorado; a Stellantis complex in Toledo, Ohio, that makes the Jeep Gladiator and Wrangler; and a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, which makes the Bronco and Ranger pickup trucks.

The work stoppage could also affect other companies in the automakers’ supply chain.

President Biden, who has been fully supportive of unions, has said he supports the UAW. Still, the labor demands and strike could conflict with his climate agenda, which envisions an electric vehicle future for auto companies that may need fewer workers.

Jack Ewing contributed to the reporting.

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