GM, Ford leaders clash with UAW as union expands strikes

  • About 25,000 UAW workers are now on strike
  • New plants have been infected in Chicago and Lansing, Michigan
  • The Ford CEO said the talks are not at an impasse

DETROIT, Sept 29 (Reuters) – Chief executives from GM and Ford blasted United Auto Labor leaders on Friday, UAW President Sean Fine responded, hours after the union intensified a strike now in its third week.

Fein on Friday expanded its first simultaneous strike against the Detroit Three, ordering workers to walk off the job at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant and GM’s ( GM.N ) assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan. Stellandis was saved after last-minute offers from the Chrysler parent, he said.

“It’s clear there’s no real intent to reach an agreement,” GM CEO Mary Barra said late Friday, while Ford CEO Jim Farley said the union was holding a deal “hostage” in a dispute over future electric vehicle battery plants. The UAW responded on social media that no CEO attended this week’s bargaining.

“Still, Barra and Parley made $50 million dollars last year,” the union added.

Strongly worded individual statements showed growing frustration at the pace of negotiations entering their third week.

Farley said the UAW demands “could have a devastating impact on our business.” He said the dispute centers on wages and benefits at new electric vehicle battery plants that have yet to start production.

“I don’t know why Jim Farley is lying about the status of negotiations,” Fine responded. “Maybe because he failed to bargain this week as much as he has bargained for the last 10 weeks.”

Unions and companies are far apart on key economic issues and CEO reports suggested they are no closer to resolving many sticking points. Fein stuck with a demand for a 40% pay raise in a four-year contract, backed by President Joe Biden this week. Companies have offered about 20% wage hike.

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Barra accused Fine of dragging workers into a long, unnecessary strike and trying to “make history for himself” with the move. “I won’t do anything to jeopardize our future,” Barra added.

The union continued its deliberate approach to the strike, choosing to walk out of two additional assembly plants — rather than the larger impact of a walkout at the Detroit Three’s most profitable truck manufacturing plants.

Additionally, the union is trying to protect limited strike funding that could be strained by additional strikes at UAW-represented Mac Trucks facilities and Detroit-area casinos.

“The strike costs the union a lot of money. It’s $500 per worker a week. With an additional 7,000 (walkouts) we’re talking over $12 million a week from the strike fund,” said Sam Fiorani. Global vehicle forecasting in automated forecasting solutions.

Differences with Ford include retirement benefits and job guarantees, Fine said.

The total number on the picket lines has risen to 25,000, or about 17% of the three automakers’ union members.

As opposed to a mass walkout hammering away at different automakers over the past two weeks, the UAW has historically played the companies against each other strategically.

Workers walked out Friday at a Ford assembly plant in Chicago that makes the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator SUVs, as did a GM plant in Lansing that makes the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave SUVs.

Farley said the union’s decision to expand walkouts at Ford threatens thousands of supplier jobs. He said several suppliers were on a “knife’s edge” because of a more than two-week strike at a Michigan factory that makes Bronco SUVs and Ranger trucks.

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The UAW leader is holding a deal hostage to the fate of electric vehicle battery plants, including three Ford is building with outside companies and plans to own in Marshall, Michigan. The UAW wants workers represented by the union and paid the highest tier of wages.

Ford is now reconsidering the size and scope of the $3.5 billion Marshall battery plant because of uncertainty over labor costs, Farley said.

Stellandis also blamed the UAW for failing to reach a new contract.

In an earlier email to employees, GM said it had not yet received a detailed counteroffer to its Sept. 21 proposal. “Calling more strikes is just for headlines, not real progress,” the agency said.

Stellandis ( STLAM.MI ), refrained from further divulging: “We have made progress in our discussions, but there are gaps. We are committed to continuing and expeditiously working on these issues.”

Minutes before he addressed members at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT), Fine said Stellandis made significant changes to his plan. This led to a half-hour delay in his announcement, and saved Stellandis from the expansion.

Fine cited progress with Stellandis around cost-of-living payments, as well as the right to strike over production obligations and plant closings. Negotiations are ongoing with all three companies.

Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University, said: “What Sean Fine likes is a slogan: If you’re good to us at the table, we won’t mess with you. If you’re bad to us at the table, we’ll raise the strike.”

The UAW has stepped up the pressure over the past two weeks. Workers at one plant each from GM, Ford and Stellantis went on strike on September 15. The union escalated on Sept. 22, when workers walked off the job at GM and Stellantis dealerships in 20 states across the country.

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UAW workers are threatening to walk off the job Sunday at heavy truck maker Mack Trucks and three Detroit casinos. A UAW strike has shut down a plant making axles for Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama auto plant.

Reuters Graphics

Report by David Shepherdson and Joseph White; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman and Abirub Roy, Bianca Flowers, Shivansh Tiwari, Abhijit G and Peter Henderson; Editing by Nick Zieminski, David Gregorio and Jonathan Otis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Joe White is a global automotive correspondent for Reuters based in Detroit. Joe covers a wide range of auto and transportation industry subjects and writes for The Auto File, a three-times-weekly newsletter about the global automotive industry. Joe joined Reuters in January 2015 as lead transportation editor for planes, trains and automobiles, and later became global auto editor. Previously, he served as global auto editor for The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw coverage of the auto industry and ran the Detroit bureau. Joe is the co-author (with Paul Ingrassia) of Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry, and he and Paul shared the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

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