As tensions build around the negotiations, the United Auto Workers is asking locals representing 140,000 autoworkers employed by General Motors, Ford and Stellantis to hold strike votes during the next week.
In calling for the strike vote, UAW President Shawn Fain said in a new appearance on Facebook Live there had been no progress in the negotiations with the three automakers and asked for a big turnout for what is normally a pro-forma vote to underscore the union hefty economic demands.
“We see our membership coming together like never before. The is our generation’s defining moment,” he added.
Fain media commentary on UAW demands
Fain also used his latest Facebook Live appearance to chastise company executives and their “lackeys in the media” for criticism heaped on the UAW lengthy list of demands, which includes a substantial pay increase, reconstituted pensions and a shorter work week.
“They continue to act as its business as usual,” said Fain, who appears intent on disrupting the industry’s status quo. He noted experts have said labor represents between 5% and 10% of the cost of new vehicle, but the price of a new vehicles has climbed by double digits over the past two years. He flatly rejected the criticism from company executives and from what he described as their “mouthpieces in the media” Detroit’s three automakers cannot afford to meet the UAW’s lengthy list of demands.
“The cost of a new car has gone up by 20%,” he said. “It’s not because of labor costs. Instead of investing in their workforce, they have squandered $16 billion on special dividends, stock buybacks and executive compensation,” he added.
As in the past, company bargainers have noted the labor costs of the Detroit’s Three automakers are substantially higher than those of Detroit’s non-union competitors.
Fain also dismissed the complaints from what he called “talking heads” on television, the UAW was waging “class warfare” with its biting comments on executive compensation.
He claimed the media failed to cover executive compensation, which said climbed 40% in the past four years, “Yet we’re attacked for demanding pensions and more time off,” he said, again noting in the last decade Detroit’s three automakers have made more than a quarter trillion dollars in profits. Meanwhile, workers are living paycheck to paycheck, Fain noted.
War on working people’s standard of living
Fain added the war on working people has been going on for decades and workers have been asked to give up their pensions, their vacations, and their pay raises, according to Fain, while corporations socialize their losses through tax breaks.
Workers want to fight back against the prevailing double standard where executives like Stellantis COO Mark Stewart take a two-week vacation at his “mansion in Acapulco, Mexico” while union members are asked to work 12-hour shifts for weeks at a time. “They are robbing us of our lives and our health,” said Fain.
Fain’s slashing style at the outset of the negotiations have given the talks an edge, and increased expectations of a confrontation when the three contracts expire Sept. 14.
Top executives such as GM’s Mary Barra have indicated they are willing to offer raises in a new agreement. Automakers also appeared open to discussions about changes in the tiered wage structure since the competition for workers across the economy generally has become more intense.
But union’s demands for pension, and shorter work week seem to have rattled the industry and reduced the value of the stock of all three automakers.
Fain, however, praised President Joe Biden for issuing a statement tilted towards the UAW position on contracts for the new battery plants being brought online by Detroit’s automakers.
“The UAW helped create the American middle class and as we move forward in this transition to new technologies, the UAW deserves a contract that sustains the middle class,” Biden said in a statement from the White House.
The President also urged both sides to work out a deal. The cost of strike to the U.S. economy would be substantial, according to economists.