The powerful union of the United Auto Workers (UAW) began a strike this Friday at three important car factories in the United States, the first simultaneous strike by workers at three major Detroit manufacturers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.
After the failure of negotiations, workers stationed outside a Ford plant marked the start of the mobilization with horns and cheers at midnight on Thursday.
“Tonight, for the first time in our history, we’re going to strike all of the ‘Big Three’ at the same time,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a webcast ahead of a strike deadline.
The mobilization of the “Big Three” could destroy the automotive sector and even the United States economy.
However, only 12,700 workers were out of a job on Friday, according to estimates by the UAW union, which represents 150,000 employees in this sector.
Fain explained that the strike will affect one plant at each manufacturer.
In the case of General Motors, the Wentzville (Missouri) assembly facility will go on strike, for Stellantis the affected factory will be Toledo (Ohio) and the Ford manufacturer will suffer a strike in Wayne (Michigan), but in the end operation. .assembly and painting, which is important.
The UAW demanded a wage increase of 36% in four years, while the three American manufacturers did not exceed 20% (Ford), according to the union.
The historic Detroit giants also refused to give more vacation days and increase pensions, which are provided by specific funds from each company.
“It’s about time they gave us something”
In two months of negotiations, UAW representatives and “Big Three” leaders failed to agree on the content of a new four-year collective bargaining agreement.
“We cannot allow the ‘Big Three’ to continue to drag out discussions for months,” Fain warned this week.
Many employees say the auto giants should come up with better proposals to make up for lower wages and benefit cuts after the 2008 financial crisis.
This financial collapse led GM and Chrysler, now owned by Stellantis, to restructuring, as both were on the brink of bankruptcy.
All three companies have been very profitable in recent years.
“This company has made money for years because of us,” said Paul Sievert, an employee who has worked at Ford’s Wayne plant for 29 years. “I think it’s time they gave us something in return.”
Ford CEO Jim Farley asked the strikers’ leader Thursday night.
“I don’t know what Shawn Fain is doing, but he didn’t negotiate this contract with us when it was about to expire. But I know he’s busy preparing for a strike,” Farley told CNBC.
He wants “a historic strike among the three groups, but we want to make history with a historic agreement,” said the executive.
An electoral risk for Biden
A long-term social conflict could have political consequences for US President Joe Biden, whose economic balance is the subject of criticism, especially because of persistent inflation.
Campaigning for re-election in 2024, Biden is operating on thorny ground and must balance between expressed support for unions and fear of the consequences of this strike for the American economy.
On Thursday night, the president spoke by phone with Fain and the manufacturers’ managers to learn about the negotiations.
“Consumers and businesses, in general, are relatively protected from the effects of a short strike,” explained the vice president of the consulting firm Anderson Economic Group (AEG), Tyler Theile.
But with inventories representing a fifth of what the industry has in 2019, with the last GM strike, “they could be hit a lot easier” than four years ago, he said.
JPMorgan analysts believe that a sharp increase in wages will have an impact on vehicle sales prices, pushing drivers to “keep their car” instead of buying a new model.