UAW President Shawn Fain has much to prove to union members. Not only must he reinvigorate a formerly mighty yet possibly still corrupt union, but he’s their first directly chosen chief, arguably through a sham election. He’s also a self-professed “reformer” whose recent credits include sell-out deals for the higher-ed realm and Clarios battery plant workers.
Not exactly smooth moves so far.
Still, Fain talks tough after previously vowing “war” against “the one and only true enemy,” i.e., the Big Three. He’s also undoubtedly feeling emboldened by the new Teamsters-UPS deal. That development left Sean O’Brien bragging about being called a “Tough SOB,” although the agreement may not be too worker-friendly after all.
The UAW is battling for a new four-year master contract for roughly 150,000 members as the EV battery plant transition looms large. The current agreement expires on Sept. 14, and Fain kicked off negotiations with hefty posturing.
Those tactics include refusing a customary handshake with the CEOs of Ford, GM, and Stellantis, thereby signaling that these negotiations are somehow different. Fain also boasted about his willingness to wield a $825 million strike fund. The union amped up strike pay to $500 weekly in an effort to prove seriousness. That’s not all.
On Aug. 1, Fain outlined his financial demands through a Facebook Live video, which was likely aimed at the appearance of transparency, given that Fain insisted that he’s not a closed-door negotiator. He then promised “the most audacious and ambitious list of proposals” automakers have “seen in decades.”
How audacious, exactly?
Fain is floating a 32-hour workweek for full-timers while also seeking “double-digit” raises. That particular demand sounds like a fantasy; surely, not both goals are simultaneously possible. Here are more of Fain’s demands:
- Dismantling the two-tier wage structure;
- Restoring COLA benefits;
- Giving workers more paid time off;
- Establishing a right to strike over plant closures;
- Increasing pension benefits;
- Using fewer temp workers;
- Ensuring job security and higher wages for the EV transition.
Fain repeatedly referenced “corporate greed” while declaring that the Big Three can afford these demands due to a $20+ billion combined profit in 2023 so far. Yet, since labor is often the only controllable cost of automakers, don’t expect swift caving.
Now, how hungry are both sides? Fain desperately needs to increase dwindling union membership by building his reputation, and automakers would love to avoid a repeat of 2019’s multi-billion dollar hit. On a more macro level, consider that a UPS strike could have triggered a recession due to essentially halting all shipping. Arguably, there’s not quite as much pressure for that here.
Automaker reactions so far: Stellantis reported a “very productive” discussion with Fain yet wants to avoid a “concessionary agreement.” Whereas Ford looks forward to “creative solutions” to move forward in a “dramatically changing industry.”
Both statements suggest that plenty remains to be hashed out on the financial side, and EV battery-factory pay could be a sticking point. Stay tuned on that final note because we’ll have more to discuss soon.