UAW head says GM has committed to a ‘just transition’ for engine workers

On a Friday afternoon livestream, Fain announces no new strike targets amid progress in negotiations with the Detroit Three

By: and - October 6, 2023 4:48 pm

UAW President Shawn Fain announcing an update to his members via social media on Oct. 6, 2023. (Screenshot/Michigan Advance)

This article was first published by Michigan Advance.

Three weeks into the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike, UAW President Shawn Fain announced a “transformative win,” on a Friday livestream, with General Motors agreeing to place their battery manufacturers under their master agreement with the union.

Before going on the livestream on social media — which was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., but was slightly delayed — Fain had planned to call the General Motors Sport Utility Vehicle plant in Arlington, Texas, to join the strike, calling the facility its “biggest moneymaker.” However, GM’s agreement averted an expansion of the strike.

“We’ve been told the [electric vehicle] future must be a race to the bottom, and now we’ve called their bluff,” Fain said, donning an “Eat the Rich” shirt.

“The plan was to draw down engine and transmission plants and permanently replace them with low-wage battery jobs. We had a different plan and our plan is winning at GM and we expect it to win at Ford and Stellantis, as well,” Fain said.

GM has not released a comment. The company said this week that it had lost $200 million in the first two weeks of the strike that began on Sept. 15, the New York Times reported.

Earlier this week, Ford CEO Jim Farley accused the union of “holding [a] deal hostage over battery plants,” Reuters reported.

The UAW has called on 43 plants across 21 states to join its “Stand Up Strike,” with about 25,000 members picketing against all three Detroit automakers: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

Alongside the agreement with GM, Fain outlined progress in bargaining with the other automakers since the beginning of the strike.

“I wish I were here to announce a tentative agreement at one or more of these companies. But I do want to be really clear. We are making significant progress,” Fain said.

The Union is negotiating for higher wages, a 32-hour work week, better pension benefits alongside other concerns like an elimination of worker tiers and a return to cost-of-living adjustments to wages to protect from inflation.

Since the first proposal of a 9% wage increase from Ford, the company has since made the highest offer among the Big Three, offering a 23% wage increase, with GM and Stellantis offering a 20% wage increase, Fain said.

Ahead of the Friday announcement, Fain told a gathering at the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) conference in Detroit that many UAW members were struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve been dealing with trickle-down economics since the [President Ronald] Reagan days in the ‘80s and it still is the battle cry of the right. Inequality has been on the rise for decades. It’s now at its greatest level since the Great Depression,” Fain said.

Alongside continued negotiations for wage increases, Ford and Stellantis have agreed to reinstate cost-of-living adjustments for workers.

The union has also negotiated raises for temporary workers to $20 hourly at GM and Stellantis and $21 hourly at Ford.

Despite progress in negotiations, there is still more work to be done, Fain said.

The union will continue to push for retirement security for pre-and-post 2007 hires, Fain said.

“For those members who never got a pension or post-retirement health care, we’re fighting like hell for real retirement security. But the companies are fighting like hell to keep our retirement uncertain and insecure,”  Fain said. “As people who give their lives to these companies, we never should have lost those rights. This strike is about righting the wrongs of the past and winning justice for all of our members,” he said.

Fain attributed advancements in the bargaining progress to the power of working-class people.

“The billionaires and company executives think us auto workers are just dumb. …They look at me, they see some redneck from Indiana. They look at you and see somebody they would never have over for dinner or let ride on their yacht or fly on their private jet,” Fain said.

“We may be foul-mouthed, but we’re strategic. We may get fired up, but we’re disciplined. And we may get rowdy, but we’re organized,” Fain said.

The union has been very careful about escalating the strike, designing its strategy not to hurt companies for its own sake, but to push them to say yes when they want to say no, Fain said.

“This week, GM did something that was unthinkable until just today. They agreed to put the future of this industry under our national agreement. This victory is a direct result of the power of our membership,” Fain said.

The UAW will rally in Chicago at 2 p.m. Saturday at the UAW Local 551 Union Hall where Fain will join other union leaders and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. 

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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson covers state government alongside health care, business and the environment. A graduate of Michigan State University, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He previously covered community events, breaking news, state policy and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.