After six weeks on strike, the UAW has secured tentative agreements with all of the Big Three automakers, including apparent wins on everything from pay and tiers to reopening an idled plant. The deals will soon go to the membership for a ratification vote.
A UAW worker pickets outside the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan, October 23, 2023. (Emily Elconin / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Forty-four days after occupying the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, in 1936, during the first sit-down strike, the United Auto Workers (UAW) declared victory, having forced the company to bargain. And on Saturday, October 28, 2023, the forty-fourth day of the “stand-up” strike that began on September 15, the UAW did it again.
Over the weekend, the union reached a tentative agreement (TA) at Stellantis, which makes vehicles under the Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, and Jeep brands. Today they reached another one, this time with General Motors, the last of the Big Three companies with which they were bargaining. With today’s third TA, the historic auto strike, the first time the UAW has ever hit all of the Big Three at once, has been suspended. Ford and GM have said that the strike cost them $1.3 billion and $800 million, respectively.
The union’s national councils for each of the Big Three automakers will now convene in Detroit to vote on whether to send the contract to the membership for a ratification vote. The Ford National Council already completed this step after Ford was the first to reach a TA on October 25. That body decided unanimously last night to send the deal to the membership for a ratification vote. Stellantis’s national council will vote on November 2, with GM’s national council voting on November 3. Workers at all three companies will return to work during the balloting process.
In a video announcing the Stellantis deal on Saturday, UAW president Shawn Fain and vice president Rich Boyer outlined a long list of highlights.
“Once again, we have achieved what just weeks ago we were told was impossible,” said Fain.
At Stellantis in particular, we have not only secured a record contract — we have begun to turn the tide in the war on the American working class. Going into these negotiations, the company wanted to cut five thousand jobs across Stellantis. Our stand-up strike changed that equation. Not only did we not lose those five thousand jobs — we turned it all the way around. By the end of this agreement, Stellantis will be adding five thousand jobs. We truly are saving the American dream.
Pay Increases and Power on the Job
The Stellantis TA, like those at Ford and GM, includes pay raises of 25 percent to base wages through the life of the four-and-half-year agreement and the reinstatement of cost-of-living allowances (COLA) given up during the Great Recession, as well as a compression of the number of years it takes a worker to reach the top rate, which will shrink from eight to three years. The UAW said the gains will cumulatively bring up the top wage at Stellantis by 33 percent, compounded with estimated COLA, to over $42 an hour. The starting wage will jump by 67 percent, compounded with estimated COLA, to over $30 an hour. The lowest-paid workers at Stellantis, temps, will see a hike of more than 165 percent over the life of the agreement. The TA also kills the much-hated wage tier at Mopar (part of Stellantis), meaning that some workers there will receive an immediate 76 percent raise upon ratification.
The Stellantis deal additionally includes not only the right to strike over plant closures, which was also won at Ford, but the right to strike over product and investment too. (It is not yet known whether the GM deal includes this provision.) The UAW also secured Stellantis’s assent to reopen its idled Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Illinois. The idling of that plant on March 1 of this year scattered UAW members to other facilities throughout the country. While Stellantis said the closure was for financial reasons, many workers viewed it as an unnecessary move meant to cow the UAW. Its reversal was a major priority within the union.
“Through the power of our stand-up strike, we have saved Belvidere,” said Boyer. “Eight months ago, Stellantis idled Belvidere Assembly Plant, putting 1,200 of our members on the street. From the strength of our strike, we are bringing back those jobs and more. Stellantis is reopening the plant and the company will also be adding over a thousand jobs at a new battery plant in Belvidere.”
Workers who lost their job at Belvidere will be put back on temporary layoff, meaning that they’ll get subpay and health care until their jobs have returned back in Belvidere, with those workers who have transferred elsewhere given the right to reclaim their old positions.
Reopening a shuttered plant is remarkable in itself, but securing the right to strike over the company’s investment decisions represents not only an advance for the union’s members but a step forward for the working class writ large. For decades, amid dwindling worker power, corporate executives have been free to direct company money and resources where they please, ignoring the working-class communities left behind, answerable only to shareholders.
No longer. Now Stellantis executives will be forced to consider the needs of workers and their communities as they plan a company’s future. Should Stellantis executives want to close a plant, they will have to contend with the possibility that this will trigger a walkout from workers at all of their plants. This is what job security means in practice.
“For decades, we’ve been fighting with one hand behind our backs, and I’ll be honest, sometimes it felt like both hands,” said Fain. “With this agreement, we’re going from defense to offense. We’re going from the managed decline of the American working class to a new era of auto manufacturing.”
EVs and Tiers
As for the Stellantis battery line at Belvidere mentioned by Boyer, it will presumably be covered under the UAW’s master agreement. So, too, will EV workers at two Ford battery plants. (UAW did not respond to requests for clarification as to the status of the Belvidere battery plant’s path to coverage by the time of publication.) Workers at GM’s Ultium Cells battery plant will also be covered by the union’s master agreement.
In a Facebook Live address following the Ford National Council’s vote last night, Fain and vice president Chuck Browning offered more details on the Ford deal. Those include the stipulation that once workers at Ford’s BlueOval Battery Park Michigan plant and its Tennessee Electric Vehicle Center win a card-check unionization process, they will be folded into the union’s master agreement, with existing UAW members at certain facilities given the right to transfer. It is unclear whether other future Ford battery plants will also be rolled into the master agreement.
“They told us for years that the EV transition was a death sentence for good auto jobs in this country,” said Fain. “We stood up and said no. With this agreement, we’re proving them all wrong. We’re bringing back both combustion vehicle and battery jobs to Belvidere. We’re adding five thousand jobs in power train alone.”
Boyer said that the contract commits Stellantis to $19 billion in new investments (Ford has committed to more than $8 billion in new investments). At all of the Big Three, immediately upon ratification, temporary workers with at least ninety days of employment will be converted to full time, putting an end to the company’s ability to trap workers as perma-temps. Going forward, no one will remain a temp for more than nine months. As with the Ford agreement, the Stellantis deal includes gains valued at more than four times those from the union’s 2019 contract. It also provides more in base wage increases than Stellantis workers have received in the past twenty-two years.
The UAW didn’t win everything, of course. It wasn’t able to claw back pensions for all, a benefit that was given up during the concessionary contracts of the Great Recession. In the Facebook Live address detailing the Ford deal, Browning acknowledged the shortcoming while noting that the union nonetheless achieved significant gains in retirement benefits: current retirees have won back annual bonuses for the first time in sixteen years, active members with pensions are getting a boost in the multiplier for the first time since the 2003 contract as well as an immediate increase in the life income benefit, and those with 401(k)s will see their employer contribution jump to 10 percent. For perspective on that last category: for those at top rate, Ford currently puts $6,300 into their 401(k) each year; by the end of the agreement, that number will be $11,000.
“No Longer a Union on the Defense”
Going forward, the union will have to be particularly vigilant about companies’ desire for flexibility at EV plants, which remains largely uncharted territory. Despite popular perception to the contrary, the number of autoworkers in the United States has not declined in recent decades; by most estimates, it has actually increased substantially. It is the percentage of such workers who are union members that has plummeted, from 586,000 in 1983 to 225,000 in 2022. If the union wants to ensure that EV plants do not become a lower and more dangerous tier of auto job, joining nonunion combustion plants in that dubious category, it will have to aggressively organize nonunion combustion shops as well as EV plants (both those operated by the Big Three and by other companies, such as Tesla, whose workers have now formed an organizing committee with the UAW at the flagship Fremont, California, plant).
Other new details in the Ford TA have also come out: Temps will be covered under the $5,000 lump-sum immediate ratification bonus as well as the company’s profit-sharing agreement, and they will be granted leaves, such as jury duty, like their full-time counterparts. Autoworkers will now have two weeks of paid parental leave and the Juneteenth holiday for the first time.
At all three automakers, the UAW moved its contract-expiration dates to April 30, 2028. Rarely are longer contracts good for workers, but Fain cited several arguments in favor of the change.
“If we’re going to truly take on the billionaire class and rebuild the economy so that it starts to work for the benefit of the many and not the few, then it’s important that we not only strike but that we strike together,” said Fain, calling on other unions to likewise align their contracts to expire on May Day. “Secondly, we demanded a longer contract because one of our biggest goals coming out of this contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before. When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six.”
“There was a time when it was hard to wear this wheel,” said Fain at the start of his address last night, pointing to the UAW logo on his shirt while standing beside Browning, the Ford National Council seated behind them.
Our union has been through some dark days and, like many of you, I walked a lonely path. What we have accomplished together has turned this wheel around. When I see that wheel, I no longer see a union on the defense, in decline, or under threat. When I see that wheel, I see power. I see the future of the working class. I didn’t do that. Chuck didn’t do that. You, the membership, did that. The stand-up strike will go down in history as an inflection point for our union and for our movement.
“This contract is more than just a contract,” he said. “It’s a call to action for workers everywhere to organize and fight for a better life.”Original post