United Auto Workers
Atmidnight on Sept. 15, contracts between the Big Three automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, and the United Auto Workers union expired. And for the first time in the UAW’s 88-year history, some members at all three simultaneously went on strike.

Three strikes and they’re out: UAW strikes hit Big Three at three plants

Sept. 15, 2023
The demands are spelled out for the Big Three automakers as thousands of UAW members officially went on strike at midnight.

The story has been updated to include American Trucking Associations' President and CEO Chris Spear's statement on UAW's strike.

As the clock struck midnight on Sept. 15, contracts between the Big Three automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, and the United Auto Workers union expired. And for the first time in the UAW’s 88-year history, some members at all three simultaneously went on strike. So far, the strike includes 13,000 of the union’s total 146,000 members and impacts production at three factories: Ford’s assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, where Broncos and Ranger pickups are made; GM’s assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, which builds Chevrolet’s Colorado and Express, as well as GMC’s Canyon and Savana; and Stellantis’ Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, where Wranglers and Gladiators are made.

The UAW’s demands include substantial pay raises, ending the two-tiered pay structure, and restoration of certain benefits. UAW President Shawn Fain had pushed for 40% pay increases over four years and four-day, 32-hour work week. Stellantis had offered a 17.5% raise, while GM CEO Mary Barra and Ford CEO Jim Farley both offered 20% raises and additional retirement contributions. The shorter work week was a nonstarter for Farley.

See also: With UAW strike looming, echoes of UPS negotiations

“We can’t have a sustainable industry working four days a week,” Farley told ABC News on Sept. 12.

Spreading out the strike at select Big Three locations as opposed to all “is unprecedented, but it makes sense,” as it allows the UAW to stretch out the strike fund, according to Marc Robinson, a business consultant who spent 30 years as an economist at GM. The UAW’s strike fund, which provides a stipend to striking union members, is estimated at more than $825 million.

American Trucking Associations' President and CEO Chris Spear issued the following statement in response to the strike: 

"Is this what the most pro-union president in history wants for America? Putting companies out of business, people out of jobs, work stoppages and now crippling strikes? If this is our future, we want nothing to do with it.

"Does anyone think demanding a 40% pay raise is reasonable, let alone realistic? Nor is a four-day work week, paid at 40 hours. How exactly do you assemble vehicles without your employees present?

"The UAW needs to stop showboating off the heels of this administration's union-biased agenda, come to the table, and put our nation's economy first."   

Prior to the strike, Robinson noted to IndustryWeek that this strategy would “minimize the drain on the strike fund and make Shawn Fain the most famous labor leader in the country.”

While the fund would be exhausted in less than three months if all UAW members went on strike, Kristin Dziczek, a Federal Reserve Bank policy adviser, said in July that the approach the UAW is currently employing could stretch the fund for one year.

“I think you could cripple the Detroit Three production with about 2,500 workers on strike,” she said.

UAW demands include:

  • Substantial raises: Fain has talked about raises of more than 40% over four years, pointing out that Detroit Three CEOs had 40% pay increases on average over the last four years. By comparison, the last UAW contract in 2019 had two 3% wage hikes. Fain has floated the idea of a 32-hour week for workers, for 40 hours of pay.
  • End the two-tier wage structure:  Dennis Devaney, a corporate labor attorney for Clark Hill PLC who served on the National Labor Relations Board from 1988 to 1994, sees the UAW having leverage in this area, since the Teamsters were able to eliminate tiers for their part-time workers at UPS in July.
  • Restore cost-of-living adjustments: Inflation boosts to wages went away during the Great Recession.
  • Restore medical benefits for retirees.
  • Bring back defined pensions for workers.
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