Closing out 2023 with a UAW bump


Graham Trainor
Graham Trainor

By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president

Over 46 days this fall, the world watched as nearly 150,000 autoworkers did something that had never been done before. On September 15, brave members of the UAW took part in the first strike at all of the Big Three automakers. Channeling the use of the union’s original “sit down strike,” the historic 2023 strike strategy was billed as the “stand up strike” and focused on keeping Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) on their toes and guessing where the next group of workers would hit. And it worked.

Just look at the results. Throughout the strike, the refrain of “record profits must mean a record contract” was heard daily. And now these contracts have locked in raises in wages of at least 25% — and for some temps as much as a 168% raise — as well as boost retirement contributions and other benefits.

But perhaps the most interesting story is what has happened since this campaign came to a close. So far, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have announced that they will be raising wages for their workers between 9% and 25% in the coming years with more expected to follow suit. This has been referred to by some media outlets as the “UAW bump.” Even more exciting was the unprecedented launch on November 29 of an organizing campaign targeting 13 non-union U.S. automakers on the heels of the UAW’s high profile contract wins at the Big Three. The time is now to raise standards and welcome any worker dreaming of a better life into the labor movement, and this industry-wide approach is helping to remind the American worker that life is better in a union.

This helps to tell the story of how powerful collective action is in a particular industry or across the entire economy, and that the work of our movement raises standards for union and non-union workers alike.

But it’s important to also keep in mind that this same current trend isn’t just happening in the automobile industry — it’s happening everywhere.

Healthcare workers in Oregon are setting new and previously unachievable standards across the industry and forcing employers across the state to take heed — or suffer the consequences. Educators are raising their voices and calling the question on inadequate public school funding that hampers our state’s ability to provide the schools our children deserve. Package delivery and warehouse workers at UPS set a new standard in their industry, putting more pressure on their non-union competitors like Amazon and FedEx. Construction workers are using the threat of their most powerful weapon to set industry-leading standards as profits continue to soar in their industry.

And when nearly one million workers went into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend having received a more than double digit pay increase because of the strength and the effectiveness of labor unions, it shows just how powerful 2023 has been.

As we close out the year, it’s important to take stock in what made the year so special, so meaningful for working people, and so historic. But now it’s up to each of us to dig deep and use 2024 to harness what’s in front of us and realize the kind of transformational growth and gains that are within reach. Because history will look back on this era to tell its story. What will you do in 2024 to ensure that the story is Union Strong?

The Oregon AFL-CIO is a federation of labor unions.


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