The United Auto Workers union said it will broaden its strike at noon Friday unless there is last-minute progress in contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three automakers.
Talks with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis continued this week, but enough disagreement remained on Thursday that the union was preparing to walk out of more factories or warehouses. UAW President Shawn Fain plans to announce the new targets at 10 a.m. and initiate the walkout at noon.
Only 12 percent of the union’s 150,000 autoworkers have been involved in the strike so far. The UAW is trying to make its $825 million strike fund last longer by targeting its walkouts as long as it can.
Although talks continue—the UAW said it submitted a new counter proposal to Stellantis on Thursday—new signs of acrimony appeared this week as the union accused GM and Stellantis of “enabling” attacks on picketing workers.
In a video, Fain said that a nonunion contractor driving an SUV hit five picketers while leaving a GM parts depot in Flint, Mich. Two of the workers went to the hospital for treatment. The SUV fled, Fain said.
At a Stellantis parts depot in California, nonunion truckers crossing the picket line have pulled guns on strikers, Fain said. In Massachusetts, a UAW member and a state senator were hit by “cars on the picket line,” Fain said, without clarifying whether the drivers were connected to the automaker.
Stellantis said it was “appalled by the UAW’s characterization of the incidents,” and accused union members of dangerous and violent behavior.
At several facilities, union members have been “slashing truck tires, jumping on vehicles, following people home and hurling racial slurs at dedicated Stellantis employees who are merely crossing the picket line to do their jobs,” the company said Thursday. Stellantis accused Fain of making “misleading and inflammatory statements, which will serve only to escalate the situation.” The UAW didn’t respond to a request for comment on that.
GM said that a third-party housekeeping contractor “is suspected” of striking five picketing employees with his vehicle while trying to leave the Flint facility. GM said it is cooperating with local investigators and has banned the suspects from its property.
The company also accused Fain of certain “false” accusations about picketing safety, and said he was “prioritizing inflammatory rhetoric over serious efforts to reach an agreement.”
An expanded work stoppage would exacerbate disruptions to an industry that makes up about 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Much depends on how long the strike lasts, Austan Goolsbee, president of The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said Thursday during a talk at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. The Chicago Fed serves a seven-state Midwestern region that is home to many of the Big Three auto factories.
Past strikes show that if the work stoppage is short, say a month or less, it has little effect on GDP, Goolsbee said. “The longer it goes and the more spread across multiple companies, the more the short-run impact,” he said.
Historically, strikes haven’t had much effect on inflation, he said. But he said that his staff is keeping a close eye on the inventory of vehicles in the marketplace. “We saw during covid times that when there’s extremely low inventory, that can do wild short-run swings in prices of cars, both used and new,” Goolsbee said. “And we’re trying to get a handle on, if this thing were extended, would we have a dynamic that is different than in previous strikes.”
The strike began Sept. 15 at three vehicle-assembly factories—one at each company—and broadened last week to 38 GM and Stellantis auto-parts warehouses. The union didn’t include Ford in that escalation, saying at the time that it was making progress in talks with the company.
The parties remain divided on wages and benefits. The union has been asking for a 36 percent raise over four years, while the companies are offering 20 percent.
In some areas of negotiation there are signs of progress. The UAW last week said GM had agreed to boost its auto-parts warehouse workers up to the higher wage scale that vehicle assembly workers earn (currently $18 to $32 an hour for full-timers). But Fain said GM still wasn’t meeting the union’s demands on cost-of-living adjustment to wages and on job-security provisions.
The companies have offered additional improvements, including two weeks of paid parental leave.
As of last week, the union had made the most progress with Ford. Fain at the time said Ford had agreed to reinstate regular cost-of-living adjustments to wages, a benefit that the union lost around the time of the Great Recession, when the automakers were struggling to survive.
Ford has also agreed to let workers strike over any plant closures during the life of the next contract— a concession that no automaker has allowed before, Fain said last week.
President Biden and former president Trump traveled to Michigan this week to try to court autoworker votes. Biden joined UAW members on a picket line. Trump spoke to workers at a nonunion auto-parts supplier.