David Shepardson Joseph White
DETROIT (Reuters) – United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain said Friday that the union will not expand its strike against the Detroit Three automakers at the moment, but said they would now walk out of additional facilities without warning rather than wait until Fridays to announce new plans.
“We’re entering a new phase of this fight and it demands a new approach,” said Fain. He shifted tactics with little notice on Wednesday when he ordered a walkout at Ford’s (F.N) Kentucky Truck heavy-duty pickup and large SUV factory, the automaker’s largest, most lucrative single operation globally.
The UAW strike has stretched now to a month with more than 34,000 union members working at the Detroit Three out on strike, including those at Ford’s cash-cow Kentucky plant.
“We’re not waiting until Fridays anymore,” Fain said. “Now there’s only one rule – pony up.”
The talks with Ford, Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI) and General Motors (GM.N) have grown increasingly tense as Fain has continued his campaign of playing the automakers off each other. Some union officials privately say that some workers have begun complaining about the length of the strike.
Automakers have more than doubled initial wage hike offers to a range between 20% and 23%, agreed to raise wages along with inflation and improved pay for temporary workers. But the union wants higher wages still, the abolishment of a two-tier wage system and a clear path to organizing new joint-venture battery plants.
Over the past four weeks, Fain has used Friday addresses to order additional walkouts, or outline progress in bargaining.
The UAW has been intensively bargaining this week with Stellantis, including lengthy talks on Thursday. It is in discussions with GM about the parameters of a deal to include battery plant workers under a master labor agreement.
Analysts at Wells Fargo estimated that Ford will lose about $150 million per week in core profit from the Kentucky plant strike.
Some analysts said the decision to shut down Kentucky Truck and other high-profit Detroit Three operations is a sign that the endgame could be starting in the nearly month-long round of coordinated walkouts.
“Pressure was always needed to force a deal,” Evercore ISI analyst Chris McNally wrote in a note on Thursday.
The Detroit automakers will report third-quarter financial results between Oct. 24 and Oct. 31, and the UAW could use what are expected to be robust profits to press their case for a richer contract.
‘AT THE LIMIT’
On Thursday, a senior Ford executive said the automaker was “at the limit” of what it can spend on higher wages and benefits for the UAW. Its latest offer includes a 23% wage hike through early 2028.
“We have been very clear that we are at the limit,” Kumar Galhotra, head of Ford’s combustion vehicle unit. “We stretched to get to this point. Going further will hurt our ability to invest in the business.”
Todd Dunn, president of the UAW local that represents the 8,700 workers at Ford’s Kentucky truck plant as well as those at the nearby Louisville assembly plant, said the truck plant walkout was necessary because Ford “took advantage of fact they had a reprieve” for the past two weeks and stopped making progress on key bargaining issues.
Ford has warned it could be forced to furlough as many as 4,600 workers as early as Friday. The automaker’s Louisville assembly plant, which builds compact Escape SUVs, could be forced to halt operations because it gets parts from Kentucky Truck, a union official told Reuters.
“They’re doing that on the backs of men and women who’ve been out for four weeks” at Ford’s Michigan assembly plant, the Ford Bronco factory that was among the first operations to go on strike last month, he said.
Dunn said his local union members want to see improved retirement benefits and assurances that workers will have jobs as the company shifts its product lineup to electric vehicles.
Ford is working with the UAW on a way to bring workers at joint venture EV battery plants into the UAW-Ford agreement, Galhotra said.
Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Joe White in Detroit; Editing by Jamie Freed