UAW President Shawn Fain chairs the 2023 Special Election Collective Bargaining Conference on March 27, 2023 in Detroit.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

DETROIT — United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain has promised union members he will do things differently this year when it comes to contract negotiations with Detroit automakers. So far, he has delivered.

Fein thrust the UAW into the national spotlight to win a battle against “corporate greed” with shrewd political tactics, a resonant social media message and confidence that the embattled union could ride a wave of national support for organized labor. ” and the “war” of billion-dollar corporations General Motors, Ford and star.

“This is a defining moment for us, as a union and as a working class. We take a different approach every step of the way,” Fein said at a conference Tuesday night. facebook live Activities with Members.

The consensus among past negotiators and several people involved in previous negotiations is that this year’s negotiations, which officially begin on Wednesday, will be “different.”

It will also be “confrontational,” “costly,” “critical,” “unprecedented,” and a “shit show,” some said.

The talks have featured a new top bargainer on nearly all sides trying to prove themselves, union members convinced that concessions are not an option, and serious concerns that the industry’s transition to electric vehicles would wipe out jobs and dent wages.

The talks also come in parallel with contract talks with Unifor, a Canadian union representing the Detroit automaker’s 18,000 workers whose contracts expire in September. While U.S. and Canadian unions have expressed solidarity with each other, this is expected to increase complexity and competition for investment and employment.

On Wednesday, the union opted for a “membership handshake” between UAW leaders and factory workers, rather than the two parties’ customary handshake to signal the start of negotiations. Officials from the companies are not expected to attend the events, but the union will start holding private meetings with company officials next week.

Former United Auto Workers president Gary Jones, left, and Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford shake hands at Ford’s global headquarters on July 15, 2019, to begin negotiations on a new contract.

ford

Fein acknowledged on Tuesday that the start of the talks marked a “break with tradition” and said, “I’m not going to shake hands with any chief executive unless they do the right thing for our members and we resolve the conflict with the Big Three.” broken status quo.”

The public disagreement between the UAW and the automakers has begun — surprisingly early, within the past two weeks — with editorials from both sides in local Detroit papers Ford CEO Jim Farley and UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, He heads the union’s Ford division.

play hard ball

“We’re changing the culture of this league from a reactionary, defensive alliance to an aggressive, offensive alliance,” Fein said in a Facebook Live broadcast last month. There’s a big change … we’re going to organize elected officials, not them.”

Most notably, Fein decided to hold off on the group’s support for the reelection of longtime union ally Joe Biden until he addressed the UAW’s concerns about the industry’s transition to electric vehicles. Fein has also been talking about doing “whatever it takes” to get members their “fair share”, including taking advantage of lockouts or strikes if needed.

“Mr Fain’s powertrain roots and comments since his swearing-in suggest the risk of a difficult negotiation is high and we expect the current UAW master agreement to expire in mid-September,” said BofA Securities analyst John Murphy. Strikes may occur at that time,” in a June 22 investor note.

Bank of America estimates that such a shutdown would cost these companies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost EBIT per week, potentially costing automakers billions.

Every automaker expects weekly impact of union strikes

  • General Motors: $770 million, or 46 cents in adjusted earnings per share
  • Ford: $620 million, or 11 cents in adjusted earnings per share
  • star: $470 million, or 12 cents in adjusted earnings per share

Estimated by Bank of America Securities.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles assembly workers build 2019 Ram pickup trucks at FCA’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant on October 22, 2018 in Sterling Heights, Mich.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

In a statement, Stellantis said the company and the union “have a long history of working together and it is our intention to continue that partnership.”

“Together we must approach these negotiations with an open mind and a willingness to roll up our sleeves to find solutions that result in win-win contracts that are market-competitive, provide a path to the middle class for our employees, and meet the needs of our customers ,” the company said.

General Motors and Ford made similar statements this week. The companies have historically refrained from commenting on the specifics of the talks until after the talks are concluded.

What’s the danger?

Members of the United Auto Workers union picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Detroit, Sept. 25, 2019.

Michael Whelan/CNBC

Under the current compensation structure, UAW members start at about $18 an hour and can top out at more than $30 an hour after a four-year “growth” period.

Following the UAW’s last talks with the Detroit automakers in 2019, the Center for Automotive Research forecast Stellantis would see an increase of $11 per hour in average labor costs per worker under the current contract, which expires in September, GM said. And Ford’s average hourly labor cost per worker will increase by $8. CAR said the increases raised labor costs for the automakers to $66 an hour, compared with $69 for Ford and $71 for GM.

Bank of America’s Murphy said wage increases in this year’s talks could mean a further 25 percent increase in labor costs for Detroit automakers over the next four years, based on recent UAW talks with companies outside the auto industry. to 30%. deere co., caterpillar and offshore renminbi.

In addition to wages, benefits and bonuses, the union is also focused on the auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles. Fein called for a “just transition” for workers as the government uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize the electric car industry.

A 2018 study by the union found that mass adoption of electric vehicles could cost the UAW 35,000 jobs, but the union recently said that number could be even fewer.

“The federal government is pouring billions of dollars into the electric vehicle transition with no strings attached and no promises to workers,” Fein said earlier this year. “The electric vehicle transition is at serious risk of being caught in a race to the bottom. We want to see the national leadership behind us before making any commitments.”

battery worker

To complicate matters further, the UAW is simultaneously negotiating separate contracts with other companies. Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solutions, makes batteries for the automaker’s electric vehicles near Lordstown, Ohio, where it closed a major assembly plant during a previous round of talks.

in a white paper The UAW report released Monday detailed some of the safety concerns and concerns reported by factory workers. The union suggested that GM’s national agreement, including its wages, could be the solution to the field’s problems.

General Motors unveiled Ultium, its new modular platform and battery system, on March 4, 2020 at its Technology Center campus in Warren, Michigan.

Photos by Steve Fecht for General Motors

Ultium condemned the report and the UAW’s characterization of the plant, calling the UAW’s characterization of safety issues “intentionally false and misleading.”

“We strongly disagree with the UAW white paper and will provide a detailed response following further review,” Ultium said in an emailed statement. “Ultium Cells is eager to resume negotiations with the UAW to discuss any specific issues with our team members as well as total compensation plan.”

Ultium says hourly workers currently make between $16 and $22 and offer full benefits, incentives and tuition assistance. By comparison, traditional hourly UAW members can earn upwards of $32 an hour at a GM plant.

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