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UAW strike: Union orders 7,000 more workers to walk off job

by Mark Mendoza

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has extended its strikes against Detroit automakers, ordering an additional 7,000 workers to walk off the job in Illinois and Michigan. This move is aimed at increasing pressure on the companies to improve their offers in ongoing contract talks.

The strikes originally began two weeks ago at three assembly plants, but have since been expanded to include a Ford plant in Chicago and a General Motors assembly factory near Lansing. Union President Shawn Fain stated that the strikes were escalated because Ford and GM have failed to make meaningful progress in the negotiations.

In response to the strikes, Ford and GM have engaged in a war of words with the union. Ford accused the UAW of holding up a deal over union representation at electric vehicle battery plants. GM’s manufacturing chief criticized the union for calling more strikes “just for the headlines, not real progress.”

While the strikes continue, the consequences are beginning to be felt. Fragile companies that produce parts for the affected factories are being impacted, raising concerns about the stability of the supply chain.

Despite the disagreements, union bargainers are still in talks with all three companies, and there is hope that deals can be reached. One bright spot in the negotiations is Stellantis, the maker of Jeep vehicles, which made significant progress by agreeing to various demands from the union.

Workers on strike have expressed their determination to secure better conditions and job security. They believe that the UAW’s strategy of slowly adding more plants to the strike will be effective in putting pressure on the automakers.

However, there seems to be a significant divide between the union and the companies on economic issues, particularly related to wages and benefits. The automakers argue that a costly contract would drive up vehicle prices, making them less competitive with nonunion models produced by foreign automakers.

On the other hand, the union argues that labor costs account for only a small portion of the overall vehicle cost, and the companies can afford to provide higher wages and benefits. They point to the automakers’ substantial profits as evidence of their ability to meet their demands.

The expanded strikes indicate that both sides are preparing for a potentially lengthy battle. President Joe Biden’s administration is closely watching the situation, as it collides with his push for electric vehicles. Biden has positioned himself as a union-friendly president, and his administration’s stance on the strike could have implications for the future of the automotive industry.

The issue of electric vehicle battery plants is a crucial aspect of the union’s future. The UAW aims to organize these plants and secure better wages for workers who may be displaced as the industry transitions away from gasoline vehicles. The automakers, however, argue that the shift to electric vehicles could result in fewer jobs due to the reduced complexity of EV manufacturing.

As negotiations continue, the companies’ last known wage offers fall far short of the union’s demands. Both sides have other contract improvements on the table, such as cost-of-living increases and the restoration of certain benefits.

The UAW initially targeted one assembly plant from each company, but this year, they implemented a strategy of targeting a limited number of facilities at all three automakers. This approach is aimed at maximizing the impact of the strikes while preserving the union’s strike fund, which currently stands at $825 million.

With no resolution in sight, the strikes are likely to continue to disrupt production and put pressure on the automotive industry. Both the union and the companies are determined to secure favorable outcomes, but finding common ground will require compromise on a range of economic issues.

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