Barely 24 hours before the contract deadline, the United Auto Workers leader said Wednesday that its members were prepared for a strike against the three Detroit automakers. The strike will begin at a limited number of factories and will expand if talks remain stalled.
The U.A.W. president, Shawn Fain, also declared that there will be no extension of the existing contracts with General Motors, Ford Motor, and Stellantis after they expire on Thursday night. He emphasized that September 14 is a deadline, not a reference point, in an address to union members on Facebook Live.
The initial strike locations will be communicated to members on Thursday night ahead of the Friday walkout. The strategy of targeting limited and specific factories aims to give U.A.W. negotiators more leverage in the talks and keep the automakers off balance.
This tactic is intended to keep the automakers guessing about the next steps, said Mr. Fain.
Striking at even a handful of plants would disrupt the automakers’ production while ensuring that a large portion of the 150,000 U.A.W. members continues to work and receive paychecks.
The union plans to pay striking workers $500 per week and cover the cost of their health insurance premiums. It has a strike fund of $825 million, which would cover payments to workers in a full strike against all three companies for about three months.
Among the union’s demands are a 40 percent increase in wages over four years, improved retiree benefits, shorter work hours, and an end to the tiered wage system. The companies have made counterproposals that fall significantly short of what the union is asking.
General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis issued statements in response to Mr. Fain’s announcement. General Motors stated that they are continuing direct and good faith negotiations and have presented additional strong offers. Ford expressed readiness to reach a deal and emphasized the need for creative problem-solving. Stellantis confirmed presenting its latest offer and expressed a focus on bargaining in good faith.
According to Erik Gordon, a business professor, a strike is very likely as the negotiations are complex and cannot be easily resolved in a short time.
Mr. Fain addressed the union members for 40 minutes, using citations from the Bible and personal anecdotes to highlight the urgency of the situation. He emphasized that corporate greed, not the workers, is the problem. He also mentioned that this negotiation process would be more transparent compared to previous leadership, providing union members with regular updates.
The automakers, despite their near-record profits, are grappling with the transition to electric vehicles. This transition could potentially lead to job losses as electric vehicles require fewer workers to produce. Additionally, the companies are investing heavily in developing new technologies and retooling factories.
The U.A.W. is concerned about job security during this transition period. Furthermore, the union contract does not automatically cover battery plants being built in partnership with other companies. Workers at a G.M. battery plant in Ohio, which started production last year, are negotiating a separate contract with the company after voting to join the U.A.W.
Kurtis Lee contributed reporting.