Strike! United Auto Workers declares historic strike against Detroit Three automakers.

By: - September 15, 2023 8:08 am

UAW President Shawn Fain talks to picketing workers at Ford-owned Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, the night of September 14, 2023. Photo by Anna Liz Nichols/Michigan Advance.

The United Auto Workers declared a strike at midnight Thursday after negotiations for a new contract failed with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

This is the first time in the union’s history it has gone on strike against all three automakers. UAW President Shawn Fain told members at the picket line at the Ford-owned Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne shortly after the strike began that the goal was never to strike — it was for companies to do the right thing by their workers.

“There’s a billionaire class and then there’s the rest of us. We’re all expected to sit back and take the scraps and live paycheck to paycheck and scrape to get by as second class citizens,” Fain said. “This isn’t just about the UAW. This is about working people in this country. No matter what you do in this country you deserve your fair share of equity.”

When Fain was asked how long the strike would last, Fain replied,  “As long as we have to, one day more than these companies want to hold out.”

The White House announced Friday morning that President Joe Biden will address the strike later in the day.

The United Auto Workers Union represents nearly 150,000 workers, and after failing to come to an agreement with all three major Detroit auto manufacturers, workers walked out Thursday night and joined picket lines at three plants: Ford’s Michigan Assembly, GM’s Wentzville plant in Missouri and Stellantis’ Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.

The UAW is following through on its “Stand Up Strike” plan. Rather than all plants striking together, select plants will be informed to “stand up and walk out.” The UAW says this will give them room to escalate the strike and “keep the companies guessing.”

Those workers being asked to continue working without a contract still have rights, the UAW instructs on its Stand Up Strike page, and should continue communication with the union for instruction and resources.

In August, 97% of UAW’s members voted to approve a strike. Fain said at the time: “The Big Three have been breaking the bank while we have been breaking our backs. … Our union’s membership is clearly fed up with living paycheck-to-paycheck while the corporate elite and billionaire class continue to make out like bandits.”

The union asked for 32 hour work weeks, as well as around a 40% pay increase over four years and improvements in benefits like pensions and more paid time off.

Many on the Ford picket line say they have given the company decades of their time and worked as much as 80 hour per week to help keep things running and make shareholders and executives more money while the wealth has not trickled down to them.

The union will not be the first to budge, Marie Felice of Westland said after 27 years of loyalty to Ford. She said after everything workers have sacrificed, blood, sweat and tears, it’s a slap in the face to have to strike.

“To be in there instead of being with my family. My children have missed out on a lot of time with me,” Felice said. “We sacrifice a lot of time with our families. I mean, I have to work 70 hours a week to lead a reasonably normal, comfortable life.”

Ahead of the strike Ford released a statement saying if the company accepted the UAW’s latest counterproposal, it would “more than double Ford’s current UAW-related labor costs, which are already significantly higher than the labor costs of Tesla, Toyota and other foreign-owned automakers in the United States that utilize non-union-represented labor.”

GM issued a statement that they are “disappointed by the UAW leadership’s actions, despite the unprecedented economic package GM put on the table, including historic wage increases and manufacturing commitments. We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members, customers, suppliers and communities across the U.S. In the meantime, our priority is the safety of our workforce.”

On the Ford picket line, Fain said “shame” on the companies for not treating their workers fairly, while those companies turn massive profits.

According to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, profits at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis increased 92% from 2013 to 2022, totaling $250 billion. Forecasts for 2023 expect more than $32 billion in additional profits. CEO pay at the Detroit Three has jumped by 40% during the same period, and the companies paid out nearly $66 billion in shareholder dividend payments and stock buybacks.

Plant employee Hass Beydoun says he’s happy to strike, grateful that union leadership isn’t taking the lack of negotiation lying down, but it makes him sad that things have come to this.

“We’re standing up for ourselves,” said Beydoun, a 28-year Ford veteran. “We finally have a president who is fighting for our rights, for the small people. … We’ve given them everything.”

The impact of the strike will not be reserved to just the auto manufacturers and the workers and will likely have a widespread impact on the economy. Michigan, where the domestic auto industry was born more than a century ago, is facing the hardest economic hit.

An analysis coming out of the University of Michigan estimates even a one week strike could result in 28,000 jobs lost statewide.

The last time UAW auto workers went on strike in 2019, 50,000 GM workers walked out for six weeks, costing GM $3.6 billion, according to Reuters.

Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed hope that the union and Big Three would continue talking and possibly reach a quick resolution.

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News.