Benefits of UAW strike could reach far beyond autos

Benefits of UAW strike could reach far beyond autos

While outlining a temporary contract agreement to end a six-week wave of walkouts at Ford Motor, the president of the United Automobile Workers made an unusual pitch to other labor unions.

UAW leader Shawn Fenn said, “We invite unions across the country to align their termination of your contract with ours.” said sunday night,

“If we really want to combat the billionaire class and rebuild the economy so that it starts working for the benefit of the many, not the few,” Mr. Fenn said, “then it’s critical that Not only will we strike, but we will strike together.”

While it remains to be seen whether other unions follow the UAW’s lead, Mr. Fenn’s invitation highlights the broader ambition of the union’s strategy during the recent strike, which is the first to simultaneously target all three Detroit automakers. There is a strike.

Beyond demanding the largest wage and benefit increases in decades – and reversing concessions made by the union during companies’ recession, such as lower pay levels for new workers – Mr. Fenn has repeatedly called for “the entire working class.” Talked about fighting for.

Labor experts said the proposals that union negotiators agreed upon with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep, RAM and Chrysler, resulted in benefits that may actually far exceed those for workers represented by the union. .

“This is a historic and transformative victory for the UAW,” said labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. Lichtenstein said achieving substantial profits through a strike in an important industry demonstrated the benefits of a work stoppage after decades in which workers were taught to approach strikes with caution.

“Fen says: ‘Hey, strikes work, solidarity works; “We are more unified now than we were before the strike,” he said. “I think this is a powerful argument that unions can take elsewhere.”

Even before the strike ended, unions at other companies appeared to be doing the same.

In an interview in late September, David Pryzbylski, a lawyer representing the employers, said union officials had invoked the UAW when discussing the possibility of a strike in two separate contract negotiations. “Outside the UAW, this is putting wind in their sails,” Mr. Pryzbylski said. “Maybe they’re panicking, but I see it’s already going down.”

A recent report The US Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that an emboldened labor movement was escalating strike activity and “causing additional harm to a host of local businesses and communities” by damaging the economic ecosystem dependent on automakers and other employers.

The element of strategy that the UAW brought to its strike may prove instructive to other workers and unions as well. Rather than asking all workers to strike at once, the union started small, with one major plant in each of the Big Three, then scaled it up while trying to bring additional pressure. The UAW refrained from expanding the strike when it felt a company was bargaining productively, and expanded the strike to a highly valued plant when it felt a company was dragging its feet – both In such cases, to encourage companies to join the union.

This approach may not be fully applicable to other industries such as retail and hospitality, which are harder to disrupt from the loss of a small number of locations. But Peter Olney, former organizing director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said the strategy is more widely applicable than it might seem at first glance.

He cited the possibility of organizing and striking at Coffee Bean Roasting Plants and Distribution Centers For a company like Starbucks, where employees at hundreds of retail stores in the United States have unionized over the years. “They have 9,000 locations, there’s a lot of redundancy and replication,” Mr. Olney said, referring to company-owned stores in the United States. “But there are also some choke points in that system.”

And it is difficult for service sector industries to send operations abroad in response to labor unrest, because proximity to customers is important. Conversely, the UAW may face the risk that companies will shift production to Mexico if labor costs rise.

“This is where the international solidarity aspect of this comes in – the need to build cross-border networks with Mexico,” Mr Olney said. Last year, workers at one of the country’s largest GM plants voted out a union accused of colluding with management in favor of an independent union.

In some ways, the recent UAW effort builds on gains made by unions involved in other high-profile standoffs. In September to resolve a nearly five-month strike with Hollywood writers, the major studios agreed to a set of restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence. This agreement was a denial of the employers’ specific insistence that management should have control over technology and investment decisions.

Temporary UAW contracts give the union greater influence over such decision-making – for example, by allowing workers to strike against the entire company if a plant is threatened with a closing before the expiration of their contract. The union also successfully pressured Stellantis to reopen the Illinois plant, which the company had closed.

Mr. Pryzbylski, the management lawyer, said that while such strike provisions and plant reopenings are not unheard of, they are unusual.

Dr. Lichtenstein said securing these benefits in such a high-profile context could inspire employees at other companies to demand a stake in decisions that their employers would typically characterize as management prerogatives. Are. “It restores a kind of social and political character to investment decisions,” he said. “This is something the left has wanted for more than a century.”

In other cases, the UAW managed to win concessions at plants where it does not yet represent workers – another unusual victory that could be copied by fellow unions. Ford agreed that UAW members would be allowed to move into battery and electric vehicle plants under construction in Michigan and Tennessee, and that these plants would be covered under the union’s national contract if workers there unionized. According to the UAW, this would happen without the need to hold union elections at any location.

Madeline Janis, co-executive director of Jobs to Move America, a group that seeks to create good jobs in clean technology industries, called these arrangements a “huge historic, unprecedented deal” to help ensure the EV transition. Workers benefited from this.

UAW officials say adding new members is vital to the union’s survival, and the Big Three contract would give a big boost to these efforts because organizers can point to larger tangible benefits of unionizing.

“We won’t be able to achieve such large contract wins in the future if we aren’t able to start organizing specifically in the EV sector,” said Mike Miller, UAW regional director for the western United States. “This has to include Tesla, Volkswagen and Hyundai.”

But some experts said the momentum from recent contracts could help organize campaigns that are further along. “It’s not just private vehicle manufacturing — it’s fleets of delivery vans, large electric buses and trains,” said Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs with Justice, which helps workers who want to unionize and bargain collectively. “

Ms. Smiley said that many of these companies, like electric vehicle manufacturers, had received public subsidies, creating an opportunity for organizers to appeal to politicians to raise wages and improve benefits so that they could meet the demands of recent protests by the UAW. To come closer to the victory won.

“The administration is investing in these industries,” he said. “The question is how to use it to raise the floor.”

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