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UAW expands strike to lucrative truck plant

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-10-24 10:31

FILE PHOTO: A United Auto Workers union member holds a sign outside Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, to mark the beginning of contract negotiations in Sterling Heights, Michigan, US July 12, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union went on strike at the largest assembly plant of Chrysler parent Stellantis on Monday in a major widening of its job action against the Detroit Big Three.

About 6,800 autoworkers walked off the job at Stellantis' Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, shutting down the facility that the UAW says is the company's "biggest moneymaker". The plant makes the popular RAM 1500 pickup truck.

"No bucks, no trucks! Local 1700 has shut down Sterling Heights Assembly!" the UAW posted on X on Monday.

The UAW said the latest walkout was due to Stellantis having the "worst proposal" on the table.

More than 40,000 union members working at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have joined the strike since the walkouts began on Sept 15, in a rare campaign of simultaneous strikes against the automakers.

The Michigan-based Anderson Economic Group estimates that the auto industry has lost $9.9 billion since the strike started, reported mlive.com, a news website in Michigan. That figure does not include the Sterling Heights plant.

The Sterling Heights plant is the latest target in this year's calculated strike approach, in which the UAW is targeting facilities that are increasingly more valuable to the automakers' bottom lines, reported the Click on Detroit website.

After beginning the strike by shutting facilities that make midsize pickup trucks, SUVs and commercial vans, the union is going after major facilities that produce the automakers' most profitable vehicles, like pickup trucks and large SUVs, Click on Detroit reported.

UAW President Shawn Fain said last week that talks with the automakers are getting closer to deals, but the offers have not been good enough. Fain said Monday that Stellantis has the "worst proposal on the table regarding wage progression, temporary worker pay and conversion to full-time, cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), and more".

"We've got cards left to play, and they've got money left to spend," Fain said on Friday.

On Monday, the UAW also said that "despite having the highest revenue, the highest profits (North American and global), the highest profit margins, and the most cash in reserve, Stellantis lags behind both Ford and General Motors in addressing the demands of their UAW workforce".

General Motors, which increased its offer last week, and Ford were spared in the latest escalation. At first, the UAW avoided striking at pickup and large SUV plants, which produce vehicles that make the most money for the Big Three.

But that changed two weeks ago when the UAW struck the giant Ford heavy-duty pickup and SUV plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

The acrimony between the two sides was evident in Stellantis' statement Monday afternoon in response to the latest job action.

"We are outraged that the UAW has chosen to expand its strike action against Stellantis. Last Thursday morning, Stellantis presented a new, improved offer to the UAW, including 23 percent wage increases over the life of the contract, nearly a 50 percent increase in our contributions to the retirement savings plan, and additional job security protections for our employees.

"Following multiple conversations that appeared to be productive, we left the bargaining table expecting a counter-proposal, but have been waiting for one ever since.

"The UAW's continued disturbing strategy of ‘wounding' all the Detroit 3 will have long-lasting consequences. With every decision to strike, the UAW sacrifices domestic market share to non-union competition.

"These actions not only decrease our market share, but also impact our profitability and therefore, our ability to compete, invest and preserve the record profit sharing payments our employees have enjoyed over the past two years."

Each time the automakers make an offer, Fain said, they insist it's the best they can do, only to return days later with a better offer.

"What that should tell you is that there's room to move," Fain said.

Elsewhere, the UAW and General Dynamics have reached a tentative agreement over a new contract covering hundreds of workers at some of the US defense contractor's facilities, the company said on Monday.

Earlier this month, 1,100 UAW members in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania plants had voted to authorize a strike after a four-year agreement was set to expire on at 11:59 pm ET on Oct 22.

The company, one of the largest American defense contractors, manufactures weapons systems, munitions, combat vehicles such as Abrams tanks — which are being used by Ukraine in its conflict with Russia — and submarines. Its biggest customer is the US government.

Like its peers, General Dynamics has struggled with supply and labor shortages at a time when weapons demand is on the rise due to the conflicts in Ukraine and in the Middle East, and tensions in US-China relations over Taiwan.

UAW members at the company make military vehicles including tanks and light armored vehicles, according to the union.

A tight US labor market, the expiration of multiple union contracts and the high cost of living have led to tough negotiations for pay raises and benefits, leading to strikes and protests across industries.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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