A strike against the Detroit Three automakers is making history.
For the first time ever, all Big Three automakers at one time must deal with the United Auto Workers union on strike, after it failed to clinch a deal on a new contract by the 11:59 p.m. deadline on Thursday.
The UAW strike won’t mean all of the nearly 150,000 union members who work at the three automakers will walk off their jobs en masse.
Instead, workers at three Midwest auto plants — a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and part of a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. — were the first to walk off the job under UAW president Shawn Fain’s “stand up strike” strategy.
The strike initially involves just under 13,000 workers — less than 9 percent of UAW members at the three companies.
Fain said additional locations could follow at a moment’s notice, depending on how bargaining with the companies progresses — a strategy intended to ramp up the pressure on companies by keeping them guessing about how their operations would be disrupted.
“This is our generation’s defining moment,” said Fain during an address to UAW members during a Facebook Live event on Thursday. “The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching.”
The targeted strikes are a departure from the UAW’s traditional playbook, which has usually involved having all union members at a single company walk off the job at once.
The UAW has also opted to negotiate with all three automakers at once, in another departure from its previous methods.
As the first-ever democratically elected leader of the UAW, Fain, a long-time union member himself, has taken a more confrontational approach to negotiations than his predecessors — including filming himself throwing Big Three automaker proposals in the trash.
He has repeatedly doubled down on the union’s key economic demands – including 40% pay raises he says would be in line with CEO wage increases, the restoration of pension and retiree healthcare and cost of living adjustments.
“The Big Three can afford to immediately give us our fair share,” Fain told UAW members on Wednesday.
Fain has called out previous UAW leaders for cutting deals with the automakers that he says did not favor the union’s 150,000 members who work at these companies.
During the 2008 financial crisis, the UAW made major concessions to help auto companies get back on their feet.
Workers are still feeling the effects of those concessions to this day — a key dynamic underpinning this year’s negotiations.
“We just want the wages that they gave up during the recession of ’08,” said Brandon Bell, who works on the engine line at the Ford plant in Michigan that’s currently on strike. “We’re tired of giving — we want to receive this time.”
Bell said he joined the picket line as soon at the strike began at midnight.
Under Fain, the UAW has also hinged its demands on the automakers’ profits in recent years, as well as pay disparities between top executives and rank-and-file union members.