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UAW presses Detroit automakers for better offer, threatens more walkouts

Published 10/20/2023, 12:18 PM
Updated 10/20/2023, 06:41 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Auto Workers (UAW) union members picket outside the General Motors Powertrain plant in Warren, Michigan September 24, 2007. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo
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By Joseph White and Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) -United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on Friday warned of more walkouts at U.S. truck and SUV factories unless the Detroit Three automakers improved wage and benefit offers, insisting companies could afford more than the record packages on the table.

"We're striking the Big Three like we've never struck before," Fain said. "These extremely profitable companies have more to give."

After five weeks of strikes, Fain said the UAW had received fresh contract offers from General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Chrysler-parent Stellantis (NYSE:STLA) in the past 24 hours. Ford made its newest offer over two weeks ago.

Fain confirmed the Detroit Three had converged on a 23% wage hike offer and made progress on other issues. But he told UAW members "there is more to be won". GM and Ford say additional cost-of-living increases already take their total compensation offers to over 30%.

Fain acknowledged some UAW members want to vote on the offers in hand but urged them not to give in to "fear, uncertainty, doubt and division" that he said were sowed by the companies.

While warning of possible expanded strikes, Fain also told UAW members the talks were closing in on an end. "That's the hardest part of a strike," he said. "Right before a deal is when there's the most aggressive push for that last mile. "

Shares in GM and Ford both closed up about 1% on Friday, before Fain spoke.

The union opened bargaining with a demand for a 40% wage hike. Walkouts began at the three automakers on Sept. 15 and now more than 34,000 union members are waging the UAW's first simultaneous strikes against the Detroit Three.

TOUGH ON FORD

Friday's progress in talks followed the UAW's surprise strike last week at Ford's big Kentucky Truck Plant, which generates $25 billion in annual sales.

Fain had described the Kentucky walkout as a warning to GM and Stellantis.

Ford, which has had the highest offer among the three, has said it is at the limit of what it can pay and remain competitive.

Some of Fain's toughest rhetoric Friday was directed at Ford and Bill Ford, company chair and great-grandson of founder Henry Ford. For decades, Ford has cultivated a collaborative relationship with the UAW as a competitive advantage against GM and the former Chrysler, now Stellantis.

Fain declared "the days of the UAW and Ford being a team to fight other companies are over."

He also called out Ford's $600 million fourth-quarter dividend, saying it would amount to about a dollar an hour raise for all Ford hourly workers for the entire life of a new contract.

"What Ford is showing us is that the money is there. They just don't want us to have it," Fain said.

Automakers have said union demands would significantly raise costs and hobble their electric vehicle ambitions. EV leader Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and foreign brands such as Toyota (NYSE:TM) are non-unionized.

Ford said in a statement after Fain spoke that it was "eager to conclude these negotiations," citing lost wages and profit sharing by the workers.

Stellantis had no immediate comment.

Bill Ford has warned the strike was taking a toll on the automaker and the U.S. economy. Economic consultancy Anderson Economic Group has estimated that total economic losses from the strike have reached $7.7 billion, with the Detroit Three suffering losses of $3.45 billion.

© Reuters. The GM logo is seen on the facade of the General Motors headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 16, 2021. Picture taken March 16, 2021.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook//

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) has not yet talked about how the EV battery plants it plans to build in joint ventures with Asian battery makers might fit under the UAW master agreement.

On Friday, Fain did not mention the battery plants. The UAW wants automakers to allow the union to organize their workers, and raise their wages significantly from current levels that are below assembly plant pay scales.

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