UAW president says strike continues despite GM progress. The possible impact on Alabama consumers.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) strike continues across the nation and could soon impact manufacturers in Alabama.
The strike, which originated in Detroit, Michigan, started on September 14 and is the result of autoworkers being paid low wages post-pandemic. For the first time ever, picketing is happening against the so-called Big Three automakers all at once. That’s Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis. Despite “a major breakthrough in talks” last week, organizers say the strike will continue.
UAW President Shawn Fain announced Friday that “GM agreed to have the workers at its future EV [electric vehicle] battery plants be covered by the national labor agreement governing other UAW members at GM,” according to CNN.
Fain said this was a step in the right direction, but the union and GM have not come to an official agreement yet. The talks happened after UAW threated to expand the strike to a GM plant in Arlington, Texas, where workers assemble the company’s full-sized SUVs.
Michael Innis-Jimenez, an American Studies professor at The University of Alabama, said electric vehicles, or EVs, are a big reason for the workers going on strike.
“One of the other things that prompted the strike right now is the government-mandated switch to EVs, or electrical vehicles, means a lot of these plants are going to have to shift and retool,” he said. “So, there's going to be some loss of jobs. What the union is asking for right now is that current workers will get priority in these new jobs and will be retrained into these new jobs to provide the kind of job security that auto workers have historically had.”
Innis-Jimenez also said the worker benefits at the auto manufacturers from the pandemic have been scaled back, and the union is fighting back.
“They gave up some raises and some benefits because of COVID and some work time. And now that the three major auto companies are making record profits, and their CEOs are making record amount of money… pay adjusted for inflation has actually gone down about 20% from more was 20 years ago, to where it is today,” Innis-Jimenez said.
One key demand that the strikers have made is a 40% raise. However, companies aren't willing to give that full increase.
Reuters reported on Friday that “Ford had upped its proposed wage hike to 23% through early 2028. Combined with proposed cost-of-living-adjustments, workers could receive pay increases of close to 30%.” However, the news outlet also reported the company said it will lay off another 495 workers in Ohio and Michigan because of the strike's impact. Raise increases totaling 20% are currently being offered at Stellantis.
“We're getting close to where they were. So, in a sense, it's not really a raise in standard living, it's just catching up,” Innis-Jimenez said. “They are asking for the same type of raises in the benefits to get the workers to where they were before and some guarantees of job security.”
The UAW strikers have also begun striking parts manufacturers. This took place during the second week of the strike and will prevent auto dealers from fixing broken cars. By striking the parts manufacturers, Innis-Jimenez said consumers in Alabama might eventually feel the pressure of the strike.
“One thing and one way that UAW is trying to put a pinch on these Big Three automakers is during the second week of the strike, they went on strike against some auto parts suppliers. The parts the companies that make auto parts for Ford, Stellantis and GM," he explained. "These are not the supplies that go to the manufacturing or to the assembly line or the parts. You go to the dealer. So, if somebody's Ford breaks down and they need a Ford part, they're not going to be able to get it.”
However, Innis-Jimenez said a total shutdown of auto plants and a car shortage is unlikely to happen soon.
Out of the Big Three companies that have been impacted by this strike, UAW has been putting less pressure on Ford.
“They're target[ing] the other companies because Ford, according to UAW, is the one company that is talking in good faith and is moving closer, [but] they're not there yet. But they're talking about the kind of pay and benefits and concessions that the UAW has been asking for. While the other the other two companies are standing firm with their old proposals,” Innis-Jimenez said.
Innis-Jimenez said by Ford coming closer to meeting the demands of the workers, tensions will rise among the Big Three auto plants. Until then, he said it’s up in the air which plant will start feeling the effects of the strike next, including here in Alabama.
“It’s anybody's guess as to who's going to feel the pinch next, as far as locations. And that's done on purpose by the UAW,” Innis-Jimenez explained. “The auto workers [and] the auto companies don't know what's going to shut down next to where which plants are going to shut down next. So, they're playing a little bit of Russian Roulette there, if they don't want to advance the talks.”
NPR reports about 25,000 auto workers have walked off the job so far. This is still less than one fifth of the auto workers represented by the UAW. The news outlet also says more than 3,000 workers across the Big Three automakers have been laid off temporarily as a result of the strike.