The United Auto Workers union is expanding its weeklong strike to additional workplaces owned by General Motors and Stellantis, while sparing Ford, which it said had significantly improved its offer to workers.
Union president Shawn Fain on Friday morning said the strike would spread to 38 parts distribution centres across nine states in the US.
Currently strikers are picketing three auto assembly plants, accounting for roughly 13,000 of the UAW’s 146,000 members at the Detroit carmakers. While Ford escaped the latest escalation, workers at its assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan will stay on strike, as will workers at GM’s plant in Wentzville, Missouri and Stellantis’ plant in Toledo, Ohio.
Fain earlier this week said the strike would expand without “significant progress” at the bargaining table. It is the first time the union has struck all three carmakers at once, and the UAW is picking and choosing targets rather than walking out en masse.
“We do want to recognise that Ford has shown they’re serious about reaching a deal,” he said. “At GM and Stellantis, it’s a different story.”
“We will shut down parts distribution until those two companies come to their senses,” he added.
Fain also invited Joe Biden to join the picket line, a move that could force the president to choose a side in the labour dispute.
Biden often says he is the most pro-union president in recent memory, but choosing to side with either the companies or their striking workers risks alienating some voters in the politically important states of Michigan and Ohio.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday said the president appreciates the invitation, but did not say whether he will visit the picket line.
The decision to hit parts centres, rather than other vehicle assembly facilities, will make it harder for GM and Stellantis to repair and service vehicles already sold to customers. The UAW is betting the move will increase public and financial pressure on management.
Stellantis criticised the UAW, citing a Detroit News report that included private messages from the union’s communications director in which he said the union could hurt the companies’ reputation and operations, keeping them “wounded for months”.
“We question whether the union’s leadership has ever had an interest in reaching an agreement in a timely manner,” the carmaker said. “They seem more concerned about pursuing their own political agendas than negotiating in the best interests of our employees and the sustainability of our US operations given the market’s fierce competition.”
Among workers at a Stellantis parts distribution centre in Romulus, Michigan, newly on strike, the mood seemed upbeat. A speaker blasted music at the gate, while local leaders set up a tent and offered snacks. Come tomorrow, said strike captain Anthony Steele, “we’ll probably have a barbecue grill”.
Workers at the centre are striking to put everyone on a single pay scale, Steele said including temporary workers, some of whom have worked at the facility for three years. Workers also “need a little more money to meet the growing cost of inflation”, he said.
As part of the negotiations, Ford offered to reintroduce cost of living adjustments, Fain said, helping workers’ pay keep pace with inflation. The union conceded such adjustments in 2009 when Chrysler, which eventually became part of Stellantis, and GM were in bankruptcy.
“Many people said this couldn’t be done, and we just did it,” Fain said.
However, there remain “serious issues to work through” with Ford, he added.
Ford said it is “working diligently” to reach a deal. While progress has been made, “we still have significant gaps to close on the key economic issues”, the company added.
GM did not immediately respond to the UAW’s actions.
The impact from the first week of walkouts, which began last Friday, has been muted for the carmakers, in part because of the UAW’s tactics of only targeting certain factories.
According to IHS Markit, GM produced about 6,300 fewer vehicles than it otherwise would have since September 15. Ford made about 4,500 fewer vehicles, and Stellantis has made about 5,900 fewer.
Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner estimated the impact on operating profit comes to $82mn at GM, $77mn at Stellantis and $58mn at Ford.
The financial pressure on the carmakers in the first week was “negligible”, said Chris McNally, an auto analyst at Evercore ISI, with only about 10 per cent of workers affected.
Dan Ives, an analyst at Wedbush, said: “Very simply, no automaker can take the deal [put] on the table” by the union, though he added the progress with Ford would “put pressure on GM and Stellantis”.
Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor in Washington.