UAW Threatens Expanded Strikes

Union Sets Noon Friday Deadline if There Is No Progress on Contract Talks
UAW picketer
United Auto Workers member Victoria Hall walks the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., on Sept. 18. (Paul Sancya/AP)

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The leader of the United Auto Workers said that a limited strike targeting plants in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio may be expanded if “serious progress” toward an new contract agreement isn’t made by Sept. 22 at noon.

The UAW for the first time in its history is striking at all three Detroit automakers, but the 13,000 workers on the picket lines for a fifth day Sept. 19 are hitting only three facilities, one each at GM, Ford and Stellantis, in a novel strategy.

The union can stretch the funds it maintains for striking autoworkers if it limits picketing, but the targeted strikes can still ripple through integrated production systems.

In a video statement late Sept. 18, UAW President Shawn Fain said more factories may be picketed if there is no significant progress in talks by the end of the week.

“We’re not messing around,” he said.

Stellantis resumed negotiations with the UAW this week and on Sept. 19, the company’s North American Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart said common ground is still being sought to end the standoff.

“I hope that we’re able to do that by Friday,” Stewart said on CNBC.

A spokesman for General Motors said representatives of the company and the United Auto Workers also were continuing to negotiate.

Fain said on NPR that there is “a long way to go,” and if significant progress is not made, “then we will escalate action.”

The union’s strategy hinges on its ability to escalate the strike quickly, and the carmakers are warning of potential layoffs as the limited strike reduces the amount of material needed at plants that remain open.

GM said Sept. 18 that 2,000 UAW-represented workers at an assembly plant in Kansas City are “expected to be idled as soon as early this week” because of a shortage of supplies from a GM plant near St. Louis, where workers walked off the job Sept. 15.

Workers at the Kansas City plant build the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4.

The strike could begin to affect suppliers and their employees too. CIE Newcor told Michigan officials that it expects a one-month closure of four plants in the state to start Oct. 2 and idle nearly 300 workers.

In a sign of concern of the strike’s potential economic and political fallout, the Biden administration stepped up its response.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she is hoping for a quick resolution, while adding that it is too soon to gauge the strike’s impact.

“It’s premature to be making forecasts about what it means for the economy. It would depend on how long the strike lasts and who would be affected by it,” she said on CNBC.

Strikes by Hollywood writers and actors, by workers at about 150 Starbucks locations and walkouts that were narrowly averted at UPS Inc. and West Coast ports — has been driven by a strong labor market and high demand for workers as well as living costs that have risen rapidly.

President Joe Biden is sending two top administration officials to Detroit to meet with both sides. Biden has backed the UAW in brief public comments, saying that the automakers have not fairly shared their record profits with workers.

An administration official said Sept. 18 that acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior aide Gene Sperling will not serve as mediators — they won’t be at the bargaining table — but are going to Detroit “to help support the negotiations in any way the parties feel is constructive.” The official was not authorized to discuss private discussions and spoke anonymously.

Fain said the Biden administration won’t broker a deal.

“This is our battle. Our members are out there manning the picket lines,” he said Sept. 18 on MSNBC. “This battle is not about the president, it’s not about the former president” — a reference to reports that former President Donald Trump plans to skip a debate for Republican presidential candidates next week to meet with striking autoworkers in Detroit.

On Sept. 18, Ford workers on a picket line outside a plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne were joined by members of other unions and the occasional politician.

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Tevita Uhatafe, an aircraft maintenance worker from Arlington, Texas, showed his support and saw what it might look like if UAW members strike against a GM truck plant in his hometown.

“This is a fight that is most likely going to happen in our backyard,” Uhatafe said.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich) said she walked the picket line because the strike “is showcasing a modern movement for worker justice and worker fairness.”

— Associated Press writer Mike Householder in Wayne, Mich., contributed to this report. Koenig reported from Dallas.