UAW at US ‘big three’ motor companies set to strike on September 14th!

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UAW members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action

The United Auto workers union (UAW) says that its 146,000 members at the so called ‘big three’ motor companies – General Motors, Ford and Stellantis – are still set to go strike in Detroit on 14th September as it can’t reach an agreement with bosses at the companies.

UAW is demanding a 46 per cent pay raise. A 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay and a restoration of traditional pensions.

The automakers, which are making billions in profits, have dismissed UAW’s demands.

The wide gulf between the sides is something that is not getting any closer with bosses telling workers that they have been offered a good deal which they must accept because it is the best deal that they are going to get.

The number of strikes in the United States is growing, involving Hollywood actors and writers, sizeable settlements with railroads, and major concessions by corporate giants like the postal company UPS.

Shawn Fain, the President of UAW, has characterised the contract talks with Detroit’s automakers as a form of war between billionaires and ordinary workers.

Fain previously condemned a contract proposal from Stellantis as ‘trash’ – and tossed a copy of it into the bin ‘where it belongs’.

The big three collectively posted net income of $164 billion over the past decade, $20 billion of it this year.

The CEOs of all three major automakers earn multiple millions in annual compensation.

Fain added: ‘They get out-of-control salaries.

‘They get pensions they don’t even need.

‘They get top-rate health care. They work whatever schedule they want.

‘The majority of our members do not get a pension nowadays. It’s crazy. We get substandard health care. We don’t get to work remotely.’

UAW members have voted overwhelmingly to authorise its leaders to call a strike.

So, too, have Canadian auto workers, whose contracts end four days later and who are fighting for better wages and conditions at Ford.

The UAW hasn’t said whether it will select one target automaker. It could strike at all three, though doing so could deplete the union’s strike fund in under three months.

During a 40-day UAW strike in 2019, GM alone lost $3.6 billion.

Last week, the union filed charges of unfair labour practices against Stellantis and GM, which it said have yet to offer counter-proposals and it is likely to do the same with Ford.

All three automakers have claimed that the union’s charges are baseless and that they’re ‘seeking a fair deal that would allow them to invest in the future.’

Fain, who won the UAW’s presidency this spring has said that under his leadership the union will fight for every member in both the US and Canada and will not ‘sign bad deals for our hard working members’.

Currently, UAW workers who were hired after 2007 don’t receive defined benefit pensions.

Their health benefits are less generous, too.

For years, the union gave up general pay raises and lost cost-of-living wage increases to help the companies control costs but the new leadership has reiterated that they will no longer do that.

Permanent assembly workers earn $32.32 an hour while temporary workers, who often work for agencies, start at just under $17.

Chris Lindsey, a union member who builds Ford trucks at a Louisville plant, argues that workers deserve a larger share of Ford’s sizeable profits.

Lindsey said: ‘We keep giving up, but get nothing in return. We just want something fair.’

Another issue issue blocking a contract agreement, is union representation at ten EV battery plants that the companies have proposed.

Most of these plants are joint ventures with South Korean battery makers, which want to pay less.

Speaking on the issue, Fain stated: ‘These battery workers deserve the same wage and salary standards that generations of auto workers have fought for.’

The union fears that because EVs are simpler to build, with fewer moving parts, fewer workers will be needed to assemble them. In addition, workers at combustion engine and transmission plants will likely lose jobs in the transition if the motor companies have their way.

So far this year, 247 strikes have occurred involving 341,000 workers in the motor industry according to data from Cornell University

The union is also fighting to set up branches in non-union workplaces with ‘More than half of the vehicles built in the US are in non-union plants’ according to the university’s research.

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) national president John Samuelsen has blasted the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Janno Lieber and Metro-North Railroad president Catherine Rinaldi saying that they are trying to avoid giving members of the union a pay rise.

TWU represents 600 Metro North mechanics and coach cleaners as well as the city subway and bus workers.

Metro-North is a commuter railroad running from the northern suburbs into Grand Central terminal.

Samuelsen said: ‘The MTA/Metro-North is pursuing a collective bargaining strategy for Metro-North Railroad which is knowingly and intentionally predicated upon false pretences, upon a flat out lie.

‘The MTA leadership’s actions seem to constitute a scheme to defraud workers at Metro-North it is a criminal fraud.’

A strike by city subway and bus workers is illegal under state law — and the union is subject to stiff financial penalties and the loss of automatic dues collection if they walk out, as happened during a crippling 2005 Christmas season strike.

Elsewhere, the largest union representing state workers in Maine, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), held a rally last Sunday which demanded ‘Close the Pay Gap’ and declared the state should close the government employee pay gap and increase wages to attract candidates to fill more than 2,100 vacant state positions.

The demonstrators drove by the Blaine House, home of Democratic Party Governor Janet Mills, and the Maine State House with their car horns beeping after the barbecue event at Mill Park.

Leaders of the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the SEIU which represents the state workers, shared experiences from their departments, which they described as understaffed and underpaid by an average of 15 per cent compared to the private sector and other public jobs across New England.

Kevin Randall, a state worker from Gardiner, addressing the rally said: ‘Service workers that dedicated their lives to the public have to rely on public assistance to live.

‘What we want is the Maine state government and the people in charge to make sure people have a livable wage.’

Friday marked the start of the third month in which the state employees are working under the terms of their expired contract, which covers almost 13,000 state employees.

This comes shortly after the Maine state government announced it had finished the 2023 fiscal year with a $141 million surplus.

The money left over when the fiscal year ended June 30 filled the state’s budget stabilisation account, also called the rainy day fund, with a record high $968.3 million, according to Mills.

A new law included in the current two-year budget stipulates $65 million of the surplus be spent on affordable housing programmes.

State reports from 2020 and as far back as 2009 show Maine workers are underpaid by an average of 15 per cent and one-in-six state government positions is vacant, amounting to the more than 2,100 unfilled jobs.

Legislative efforts were defeated in the last session of the state congress with bill LD 1854, which would have required the state allocate money from the surplus being voted down.

Local 1989 SEIU President Dean Staffieri gave an example of union members of state departments that are affected by staffing shortages: ‘A truck driver with the Maine Department of Transportation worked more than 34 hours ploughing snow because the state can’t hire drivers at a low wage.

‘A ferry operator worked 74 hours of overtime because he did not want to leave islanders without transportation, and coming up, he is scheduled to work 21 days without a day off.

‘ 911 operator’s typical shift is 16 hours on and eight off, with a 15-hour shift the next day because of staffing issues.

‘These are the folks who make sure help is there when we need it. Don’t they deserve manageable work schedules? It’s only a matter of time — with those gruelling schedules — that someone is going to make a mistake and someone is going to get hurt.

‘And the low pay, starting at $15 to $16 an hour, is causing people to turn the other way when offered state jobs.’

Tracy Bonnevie, who works for the state Department of Transport in Wilton, said Poland Springs is hiring drivers at $24.50 an hour, and most of the employers that apply with the DoT work for two to three weeks before realising they cannot afford to live on starting pay estimated at $17 to $18 an hour.