By DON McINTOSH
Ford capitulated Oct. 25. Stellantis (Chrysler) on Oct. 28. General Motors on Oct. 30. One by one, the Big Three auto companies settled record-setting contracts with the United Auto Workers (UAW), ending a 46-day strike that began Sept. 15.
UAW president Shawn Fain called it a “stunning” victory, one of the biggest union wins since the sit-down strikes of the 1930s. In six weeks of striking all three companies at once for the first time ever, expanding the strike week by week, UAW members rolled back decades of humiliating concessions and dramatically altered the balance of power going forward. The new contracts run four and a half years. Though the contracts aren’t exactly the same, they mirror each other in that they:
- ABOLISH THE HATED TWO-TIER WAGE SYSTEM Two-tier contracts divide workers and erode solidarity because new hires have a lower pay scale and never earn as much as more senior workers.
- RAISE THE TOP WAGE 25% A general wage increase takes the top wage from $32 an hour to over $42.
- NEARLY DOUBLE THE STARTING WAGE Starting wages rise from $18 an hour to over $30 an hour.
- Restore the true COLA COLAs (cost of living increases) used to be tied directly to inflation. That was the point. But UAW gave that up as a concession in 2009. Now it’s back. In addition to the general wage increase, wages will also rise automatically with inflation.
- FASTER WAGE PROGRESSION New hires will now reach top pay in three years, not eight like before.
- END PERMA-TEMPING Temporary workers will automatically become permanent after nine months.
- NO MORE LOWER-TIER PLANTS Companies will no longer pay workers at parts plants less than those at assembly plants.
- BETTER RETIREMENT Automatic employer 401(k) contributions will jump from 6.4% to 10%
- OWN WHAT YOU PRODUCE Workers will get a $1,500 car voucher toward a new vehicle purchase.
- SWEETEN THE DEAL Workers get a $5,000 bonus upon ratification
- CLOSE A PLANT, FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS Workers will have the right to strike company-wide – during the current contract – if a company closes a plant.
Stellantis also agreed to reopen a 1,350-worker factory in Illinois that it closed in February — and add more than a thousand jobs at a new battery plant there.
UAW did drop some of its more ambitious early demands, including a 32-hour work week and restoration of defined benefit pensions. And it settled for a 25% wage increase after initially demanding 40%. Still, by any measure, the gains were dramatic. Many of the lowest paid autoworkers will be making $32,000 a year more by the end of the contract.
“This contract … is a turning point in the class war that has been raging in this country for the past 40 years,” Fain told members Oct. 29 via Facebook Live.
The Big Three made $250 billion in profit in the last 10 years. In the last six weeks they learned the hard way that they’ll have to share those gains going forward. By the end, about 46,000 of the 146,000 UAW members at the Big Three were on strike — at eight assembly plants and 38 parts distribution centers in 22 states. GM was losing $200 million a week in profit, and Ford estimated the strike cost it $1.3 billion in profit this year.
Having reached tentative agreements with all three companies, UAW has suspended the strike while members vote on agreements in the coming weeks. If ratified, the contracts run through April 30, 2028. That means if UAW has to strike next time, it could begin on May Day, International Workers Day.
Fain says UAW will now focus on organizing nonunion Tesla and foreign companies like Toyota and Volkswagen whose U.S. factories aren’t unionized,
“When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three, but with the Big Five or Big Six,” Fain said.
“We have shown the companies, the American public, and the whole world that the working class is not done fighting. In fact, we’re just getting started.”