For 44 days, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain led members to conduct a stand-up strike against the Big Three American automakers, and the defining moment of this generation came when he declared the negotiations were successful.
The union was determined to win at the bargaining table, and on Oct. 28, the UAW declared victory with a tentative agreement with Stellantis.
It is still up to the UAW’s rank and file membership to decide if the gains through negotiation are enough and ratify the deals with their votes.
To hear Fain, the United Auto Workers’ fiery president, tell it, Detroit’s largest automakers enjoyed years of lavish profits thanks to concessions made by its workers through the lean years before and after the 2009 recession.
When the UAW’s contract with the Big Three automakers expired in mid-September, the UAW authorized strikes against all three manufacturers — a historical first.
Workers demanded pay raises, the return of lost benefits, better job security, and the inclusion of electric-vehicle workers under the union’s master agreement.
By the end of October, the union had tentative agreements with all three carmakers that reversed more than a decade of concessions from organized labor.
The deals included record pay increases, an aggressive cap on the use of lower-paid temp workers, and the right to strike over plant closures.
The union’s first tentative contract agreement, reached with Ford on Oct. 25, includes record pay increases of more than 30%, with additional cost-of-living increases by the contract’s end on April 30, 2028.
Ford’s lowest-paid workers will get an immediate raise of 88%. Top pay will go to $42.60 an hour, and there’s a $5,000 ratification bonus and a $1,500 voucher toward a new vehicle purchase.
The deal also includes job security agreements, full-time jobs for temporary workers and a “pathway” for future EV workers to be covered by the union.
Complete details of the Oct. 28 tentative agreement with Stellantis, maker of the Jeep and Chrysler brands, are not yet publicly known, although the automaker did match Ford’s pay hikes and agree to reopen an idled assembly plant, a coup for the union.
The UAW originally proposed that the carmakers increase hourly pay by 40% over the life of the more than four-year agreement, but later lowered the demand to 30%.
It was also seeking the restoration of traditional pensions, retiree health care, and the reduction of the work week to 32 hours from 40.
The contracts will need to be ratified by each automaker’s workers, and these shortfalls could be a factor when the union’s roughly 147,000 members vote.
The union began by striking a limited number of locations at all three Detroit automakers — the first time in its 88-year history that it had targeted all of them at once.
More strike locations were added as the negotiations were progressing, allowing the union to maintain leverage at the bargaining table.
At its peak, more than 45,000 workers had walked out of nine assembly plants and 38 parts distribution facilities. While each company negotiated separately, they closely watched one another’s moves, and the UAW used each new offer to pressure the others.
“The days of low-wage, unstable jobs at the Big 3 are coming to an end,” said Fain. “The days of the Big 3 walking away from the American working class, destroying our communities, are coming to an end. We truly believe that we got every penny possible out of this company. We left nothing on the table. We couldn’t be more proud and honored to bring this tentative agreement for a vote.”
Fain and UAW Vice President Rich Boyer addressed the membership on Facebook on Oct. 28, detailing some of the features in the proposed contract.
The list is extensive, ranging from large wage increases, the elimination of wage tiers, the conversion of temporary workers to full-time status, the return of an annual Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) automatic wage increase, improvements to retiree benefits, the right to strike against plant closures and product eliminations, and the re-opening of Belvidere Assembly and commitment to construct an electric vehicle battery plant in that Illinois community.
“The stand-up strike showed the incredible power of regular, working-class people to fight for economic justice and win big,” said Fain. “We’ve achieved what just weeks ago we were told was impossible. Over the 44 days we were on strike, Stellantis more than doubled the total value of the proposals they had on the table. We not only secured a record contract, we have begun to turn the tide on the war on the American working class. We truly are saving the American dream.”
Now that the UAW has reached a tentative agreement with Stellantis, representatives from the UAW’s National Stellantis Council – leaders from across the locals serving members at the company – will travel to Detroit to review the agreement on Thu., Nov. 2.
If they agree to the terms, the UAW will hold an informational presentation on Facebook that evening to spell out every detail of the proposed agreement to the membership.
Following that presentation, regional informational meetings will be held to answer questions from the membership. A vote of the entire UAW Stellantis membership will take place shortly after those meetings.
The changes to temporary workers in the proposed contract will impact Kokomo significantly. The hundreds of employees held to lower wages and lesser benefits while working alongside full-time employees will no longer be forced to work in temporary status.
Boyer was particularly proud of the effort that resurrected the Belvidere Assembly Plant. More than 1,200 employees lost their jobs when the plant idled earlier this year.
“This company ripped the hearts out of that community,” said Boyer. “Stellantis didn’t care. Brothers and sisters, we made them care. From the day I heard they were coming after Belvidere, I swore one thing. We weren’t going to let them kill another working-class community.
“It is my great honor to announce that we saved Belvidere with the strength of our stand-up strike. We will bring back thousands of jobs to Belvidere. We have won a new vehicle for Belvidere. It will be a midsize truck, and we will have two shifts. In addition, we’ll also be adding over 1,000 jobs at a new battery plant in Belvidere.”
Boyer added that all displaced Belvidere employees will be placed on temporary lay-off, qualifying them for sub-pay and healthcare benefits until the plant resumes operation. And, all former Belvidere employees who were previously displaced and relocated to other plants across the country will be given the right to return to Belvidere.
The union also won product commitments that preserve jobs at Stellantis’ Trenton Engine and Toledo Machining facilities. Boyer stated that the total new investment from Stellantis will exceed $19 billion over the course of the agreement.
“For decades, temps at the Big 3 have been abused and exploited,” said Fain. “Over the life of the contract, some current Stellantis temps will see raises of up to 168 percent. And the system of ‘perma-temps,’ where this company keeps thousands of our members in permanent lower-class status, will end immediately upon ratification.
“Thousands of temps will be converted. No one will remain a temp for more than nine months after ratification. In fact, the amount of money we won in gains for temporary workers in this contract is more than the total amount in gains we won for everyone in the 2019 agreement. That is the power of our stand-up strike.”
The UAW called on idled workers at Toledo Assembly, the MOPAR parts depot, and Sterling Heights Assembly to return to work while the membership considers the tentative agreement. The union reached a tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co. earlier in the week, and those members are going through the ratification process.
The stand-up strike continues against General Motors, and the union called upon members at GM’s Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee to walk out, adding more pressure to the manufacturer. It is expected that the company will seek to settle on terms similar to those at Ford and Stellantis in short order.
“UAW members across the country just showed the entire world the power that workers have when they go on strike. For decades, we’ve been fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. Sometimes it felt like both arms.
“With this agreement. We’re going from defense to offense. We’re going from the managed decline of the American working class to a new era of auto manufacturing. They told us for years that the electric vehicle transition was a death sentence for good auto jobs in this country. We stood up and said no. With this agreement, we’re proving them all wrong.”
President Joe Biden became the first president to walk a picket line when visited GM’s parts plant in Belleville in support of the UAW.
Biden commended the UAW and GM for agreeing to immediately bring back all of the GM workers who have been walking the picket line.
Biden said the contract is “a testament to the power of unions and collective bargaining to build strong middle-class jobs while helping our most iconic American companies thrive. The final word on these tentative agreements will ultimately come from UAW members themselves in the days and weeks to come.”
Best-selling author Marianne Williamson, the presidential candidate challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024, joined UAW members on the picket line
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spent an afternoon on the UAW picket line in front of the General Motors Flint Processing Center in Swartz Creek.
The Democrat, who recently announced he will run as an independent, spoke with striking workers who told him they appreciated his visit and wished more politicians and elected officials would see first-hand what it’s like to walk the picket line with working people.
“I think it’s really important for our country. It’s important for all the workers we met today, and you know, it’s important for this community, but really for our whole country,” Kennedy said. “We need to make sure the workers are taken care of. We need to make sure these industries stay here in Michigan. Everybody in our country is praying for a settlement.”