‘Stand up strike’ could leave some UAW workers on the job without contract

A United Auto Workers (UAW) strike could be just hours away.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:47 PM EDT
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MICHIGAN (WNEM) - A United Auto Workers (UAW) strike could be just hours away. The UAW and the “Big Three” automakers - Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis - have not agreed on a new contract and the current contract expires at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14.

“The labor movement largely started in my district, 8th Congressional District of Michigan, in my hometown of Flint where autoworkers sat down in the plant to stand up for good wages,” said Congressman Dan Kildee. “The fight is not just about fair contracts for union workers, though. It’s about fairness for all workers in this country.”

All three automakers have made offers to increase wages. Despite rejecting those proposals, the UAW has agreed to lower its pay-raise demand; the union is now asking for a 36 percent boost in pay, which is down from 46 percent when compounded annually.

The UAW is also asking for the restoration of cost of living pay raises, an end to tier wages for factory jobs, a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay, and the restoration of traditional pensions for new hires.

In a new offer on Thursday, Sept. 14, GM is proposing a 20 percent wage increase over the contract, with a 10 percent boost in the first year, as well as $500 to retirees’ and $1,000 to active employees’ defined benefit pension plan. Ford is also offering a 20 percent raise over four and a half years and Stellantis offered a 17.5 percent increase.

All three companies said their offers are based on cost of living adjustments.

However, a possible strike may impact some UAW workers.

Workers at GM plants in mid-Michigan might be part of what UAW president Shawn Fain is calling a “stand up strike.” That’s when only certain plants across the company are targeted.

A professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business explained would that could mean for employees left behind working without a contract.

“If you’re a UAW worker at a plant that’s not being struck and you stay on the job, there’s kind of a funny thing going on,” said Professor Erik Gordon. “You’re going to be getting full pay, while the workers who are on strike at some other plant get $500 a week.”

Gordon was talking about the prospect of some UAW workers staying on the job without a contract, which could happen if the UAW chooses a selected strike tactic, which would only select a certain number of auto plants to strike once the current contract expires on Thursday at 11:59.

He said the selected strike could be a historic, never-before-used tactic for the work stoppage.

The possible UAW strike could be a historic work stoppage with the UAW deploying a never-before-used tactic: a selected strike.

“That’s where they strike at a few key plants, don’t strike at the rest of the plants, but really bring down the most important, the heart of the operations for all three car makers,” Gordon explained.

He said it’s a strategy that could work.

“And that’s because the UAW will pay strike benefits to all of the workers who strike. So, if you only put a small number of your workers that strike, you can pay those strike benefits a lot longer than if you’re going to pay them to all 146,000 workers. At the same time, you might do just about the same amount of damage to the car makers,” he said.

Gordon believes if the strategy is successful, it could become a mainstay for the UAW.

“If the tactic is viewed by union rank and file as working, as being the tactic that pushed the car companies over the line, it could become standard fare for the next round four years from now, and eight years later,” he said.

However, Gordon also discussed how workers may feel punching the clock without a contract.

“I think some workers, there will be mixed feelings. Some workers will want to be on strike, they want to show their solidarity, they want to show that they are in the vanguard. Other workers would probably just as soon keep that full pay,” Gordon said.

He believes this could be an uneasy time for some employees of the Big Three.

“The workers basically have to work or they could lose their jobs. If they’re not on strike, they’re not protected,” Gordon explained. “On the other hand, there’s no contract so they could quit their jobs and the companies could lock them out. They could lock the doors and say, ‘Look, there’s no contract. This plant is closed.’”

Gordon is quick to point out if and when a strike begins, at some point, it will end. He thinks the work stoppage could be very different for workers depending on which plant they’re at.

“So you’ll have some workers who got $500 a week while the strike was going on, some are getting full pay, which is more than twice that amount, but they will all get the same benefits. Kind of odd if you’re a UAW worker,” he said.

As of Thursday at 5 p.m., the UAW and Big Three are still negotiating, but it is unclear if a deal can be reached before Thursday’s deadline.

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