On Friday afternoon, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain announced that, in response to major last-minute concessions, the union would not expand its targeted strike of the Big Three automakers.
In a move that Fain said would have been previously “unthinkable,” General Motors has now agreed to put electric-vehicle battery plants under its master agreement with the union. GM is the first member of the Big Three to agree to bring battery plants under the national agreement.
UAW President Shawn Fain Livestream Update 10/6/23 https://t.co/Gw9YqEJNkA
— UAW (@UAW) October 6, 2023
The union had been told for months that it was impossible to make that concession, according to Fain. The reversal at GM is a major step towards ensuring that the transition to EVs does not undermine union power at Ford, GM, and Stellantis. “What this will mean for our membership cannot be understated,” Fain stressed while wearing a t-shirt that read “Eat the Rich.”
The UAW had been on the verge of shutting down a GM plant in Arlington, Texas, that Fain called the company’s “largest-money maker.” The move would have stopped production of highly-profitable SUVs including Chevrolet Suburbans and Cadillac Escalades. The roughly 25,000 UAW members now on strike across the Big Three will remain on the picket lines.
“I wish I were here to announce a tentative agreement at one or more of these companies, but I do want to be really clear,” Fain said about the overall state of negotiations. “We are making significant progress. In just three weeks, we have moved these companies further than anyone thought possible.”
Ford initially offered to raise pay by nine percent over the course of the four-year contract, Fain said. It has now offered to boost pay by 23 percent—significantly closer to the more than 30 percent increase the union has been fighting for. Ford and Stellantis have also agreed to reinstate the cost-of-living adjustments that workers gave up to help the Big Three survive the Great Recession.
The union has won significant pay increases for temporary workers and significantly reduced the eight years that it currently takes for full-time workers to earn the full hourly rate. Ford is offering to cut that progression to three years, while GM and Stellantis have agreed to four years. When it comes to job security, Ford will now allow the UAW to strike over plant closures.
The companies have tried to portray Fain as a showman who is more concerned with rhetoric and class war than negotiating a contract. The union president pushed back against that characterization. “We don’t strike for the hell of it,” he said. “We know what it’s like to hold a picket sign at 3 a.m. We know what it’s like to be unsure when you’ll get a real paycheck.”
As he came to a close, Fain made clear that the recent concessions have not affected his disdain for the rich. “The billionaires and company executives think us autoworkers are just dumb. They think we don’t get it. They think we only understand the power of a supervisor yelling at us. Or an assembly line coming at us,” he said. “They look at me and they see some redneck from Indiana. They look at you and see someone they would never have over for dinner. Or let ride on their yacht. Or fly on their private jet. They think they know us, but us autoworkers know better. We may be foul-mouthed, but we’re strategic.”
Editor’s note: The author of this post and other Mother Jones workers are represented by UAW Local 2103.