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Autoworkers Vote to Authorize Massive Nationwide Strike
UAW members’ wages and benefits have eroded while automaker profits have soared. They’re fed up.
By Katie Nixdorf, More Perfect Union
150,000 members of the United Auto Workers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against major U.S. automakers Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors. With 97 percent voting yes, the UAW now has the power to launch a massive work stoppage as soon as September 15.
The strike authorization follows a month and a half of contentious negotiations led by newly elected UAW President Shawn Fain. Fain has taken a far more aggressive tack than his recent predecessors. In July, he broke tradition when he started negotiations by shaking hands with his members instead of with company executives. Two weeks ago, he threw a concessionary proposal from Stellantis into a garbage can during a livestream.
The UAW and the Big Three car companies are negotiating over an ambitious list of demands, largely focused on restoring the wages and benefits workers enjoyed before the auto industry collapse of 2008, including cost-of-living adjustments, pensions, and healthcare for retirees.
We sat down this week with UAW workers across the country to talk about the main concerns they want to see addressed in this contract. Watch:
Here are workers’ key demands:
Double-digit pay increases
The UAW has proposed 40% pay increases — the same increase that the Big Three CEOs have won in their compensation over the past four years. They’re bargaining for a 20% increase once the contract is ratified, and four 5% increases each year thereafter, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Workers hired before 2009 reached their top wage within 3 years and had pensions and health care during retirement. After the auto industry collapsed, the UAW agreed to a system in which new workers wouldn’t be offered these same wages and benefits. A majority of Big Three autoworkers are now considered ‘lower tier’ and are making different wages for the same work.
Restoring cost-of-living adjustments
COLA is essentially a raise that matches inflation and ensures that workers don’t lose purchasing power. GM workers won COLA all the way back in 1948 and in the 1970s, the UAW won it for all members. COLA was suspended after the economic crash in 2008. As a result, workers who are hired now make $10 an hour less than they did in 2007, when adjusting for inflation.
Converting temporary workers to full-time
So-called supplemental workers are supposed to function as temporary replacements for full-time workers who are out on leave. In reality, supplemental workers are themselves working full time — often more than full time — and don’t get the benefits of full-time workers. By abusing the temp worker category, car companies have gotten away with paying lower hourly wages, offering lower quality health insurance, and giving no retirement benefits, all while demanding the same amount of work from these employees.
The Big Three and the UAW have until September 14th to come to an agreement on a new contract. If they can’t, we’re likely to see the largest strike in the industry in fifty years.