The United Auto Workers said it will hold strike authorization votes next week to determine whether the group’s 150,000 workers are ready to walk off the job when their contract expires Sept. 14.
The union expressed frustration with the pace of contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three automakers, saying the negotiations have “yet to progress beyond non-economic issues.”
“Whether or not there’s a strike next month is entirely up to the Big Three automakers,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement, referring to General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep and Chrysler. “Our priorities are clear, the companies can afford them, and there’s plenty of time for the Big Three to get serious about these negotiations. ”
The statement said the UAW recently raised strike pay to $500 per week per member and has over $825 million in its strike fund.
“Ford is proud to build more vehicles in America and employ more UAW-represented hourly workers in America than any other automaker,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the UAW on creative solutions during this time when our dramatically changing industry needs a skilled and competitive workforce more than ever.”
General Motors said it is working hard with the union “to ensure we get this agreement right for all our stakeholders. We know that our U.S. economic impact supports more than 6 jobs for every job created by GM. We take that responsibility very seriously.”
Stellantis didn’t respond to a request for comment but has previously said it is attempting to balance workers’ concerns with the need to keep the business competitive.
Keen to avoid a strike that would clobber an industry that contributes about 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, President Biden on Monday urged both sides to forge a deal.
Automakers should “take every possible step” to avoid closing plants and keep jobs in their existing manufacturing communities when they need to retool, Biden said in a statement. They should also pay wages that can support a family and honor workers’ right to organize, he added.
The president also suggested a word of caution for the UAW as it puts big wage-increase demands on the table, saying that the U.S. auto industry needs to “successfully compete domestically and globally.”
Biden framed his statement as particularly vital amid a broad industry retooling to produce electric vehicles.
“The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class,” he said. “The need to transition to a clean energy economy should provide a win‑win opportunity for auto companies and unionized workers.”
The UAW’s 150,000 automotive members produce nearly half of the light vehicles manufactured in the United States, according to GlobalData.
Fain, newly elected to lead the UAW this spring, has amped up the union’s demands after what he calls too many years of complacency and concessions by union leadership. Automakers have suggested they can’t remain competitive against Tesla and other non-unionized workplaces if they grant what the union is demanding.
The UAW is demanding a 40 percent wage increase over the life of the new four-year contract. It also wants automakers to reinstate regular cost-of-living adjustments to wages; end a tiered employment structure that offers lower compensation to many new workers; restore pensions and retiree health-care benefits to all workers; and ensure that EV battery and vehicle plants offer the same compensation and job security as those in the gasoline era.