A potential strike loomed over the United Auto Workers (UAW) on Thursday amid a midnight contract expiration deadline with the big U.S. automakers.
The contracts cover more than 145,000 UAW members at the so-called “Big Three” auto companies: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which builds vehicles under the Jeep, Ram, Dodge and Chrysler brands for North America.
If a deal is not met, it could lead to the first-ever nationwide UAW strike being called simultaneously at the Big Three in Detroit.
As of Wednesday afternoon, UAW President Shawn Fain said the Ford had offered union workers a 20% pay raise, General Motors an 18% raise, and Stellantis 17%. However, that’s far short of 40% raise over four years that the union wants—essentially the same pay raise that the automakers’ CEOs saw on average over the past four years, according to Fain.
In other words, UAW wants GM’s full-time assembly plant workers to earn $32.32 per hour and Stellantis’ full-time employees to earn $31.77 an hour.
The union is also looking for cost of living adjustments (COLA) it believes are needed in the current economic climate. COLA is used by the Social Security Administration, which increased benefits for 70 million of its recipients by 8.7% in 2023.
Meanwhile, according to Fain, the Big Three automakers raked in a combined $21 billion in profits in the first six months of 2023. “Record profits mean record contracts,” the UAW president asserted.
Ford CEO James Farley has rebuffed comments by Fain, arguing that his company has received “no genuine counteroffer” from UAW on four economic proposals.
President Biden, who’s called himself the most labor-friendly President in history, is reportedly walking a fine line between supporting the workers and averting a strike that could greatly impact the already unsteady economy. He spoke with Fain on Labor Day, according to the White House, and spoke with Big Three leaders last week ahead of his trip to the G-7 in India.
“No, I’m not worried about a strike until it happens,” Biden said when asked about it by reporters. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Fain said he would announce at 10 pm Thursday which plants have been selected to go on strike. According to auto industry consultant Jeff Schuster of GlobalData, just “two plants per company” would be enough to “pretty much idle North America.”