President Joe Biden expressed optimism during an appearance at a Labor Day event in Philadelphia that there would not be a strike in the auto industry this month, while UAW chief Shawn Fain told reporters in Detroit the White House must know something he does not.
According to a “pool” report by reporters traveling with the President, Biden said he does not expect the UAW to strike any of the Detroit Three auto companies later this month.
The leader of the UAW has different view.
Fain, marching during Detroit’s annual Labor Day Parade, which drew a crowd of 15,000, however, said he was surprised by the President’s remarks, saying “He must know something I don’t know.”
Clock is ticking
The UAW President did say there was ample time for the UAW to reach a deal with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis before the current contract expires Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. Fain also said he expected discussions to intensify this week, noting Stellantis has indicated it could put an offer on the table this week to negotiate new labor contracts.
Ford presented the union late last month with an offer calling for a 9% pay increase over four years, which was promptly rejected by Fain and UAW bargainers because it included what the union described as concessions and failed to address one of the union’s top demands — an end to the tiered wage structure.
The union also filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis, angering company bargainers. Both companies issued sharp replies, indicating they believe the UAW’s actions unwarranted.
Fain also has been unsparing in castigating all three companies for failing to compensate workers fairly as the chalked up huge profits over the past decade. The union estimates workers now make $10 less per hour than they did before GM and Stellantis went bankrupt in 2009, while executive salaries have climbed.
The cost of the union’s demands has prompted some analysts to predict a strike is inevitable despite Biden’s optimistic assessment. Outside analysts also have suggested the union could strike all three companies at the same time. The union has never struck all three companies at once, but it has not been ruled out as Fain has not “targeted” any one company but is pressing ahead with negotiations with all three.
Big differences remain
The company’s responses, though, did highlight the broad differences between the two sides. The union has presented GM with more than 1,000 demands. Many of the demands involve minor issues, but they also include several key mandates focused on the automaker’s future plans for making electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.
While speaking optimistically about the potential for a settlement even in the face of Fain’s hard line, the White House has offered some concrete assistance that could make a settlement possible.
With the automaker’s complaining about the enormous cost of the transition to EVs, the Biden Department of Energy said it planned to make $12 billion in grants and low-cost loans to convert existing plants to EVs.
The announcements show Biden understands that building the vehicles of the future also “necessitates helping the communities challenged by the transition away from the internal combustion engine,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement Thursday.
The Energy Department also said it plans to invest a separate $3.5 billion to boost U.S. production of advanced batteries and battery materials to support the country’s transition to electric vehicles and clean energy.
The administration’s announcement on grants and loans was hailed by the UAW, which has been putting pressure on the White House to ensure the transition to EVs was workers friendly. The rules for loans appear to favor plants with union representation.
“We are glad to see the Biden Administration doing its part to reject the false choice between a good job and a green job,” Fain said. “This new policy makes clear to employers that the EV transition must include strong union partnerships with the high pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for and won.”