Thousands of auto workers have gone on strike as United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain tests out a new strategy against the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler). But onlookers should know that if President Fain is playing chess with the Big Three, that makes auto workers the pawns.
Fain’s strategy entails slowly building out a strike by targeting a select group of plants at a time. The idea is to steadily turn up the heat on auto companies until the union’s demands are met. Among its demands are a 36% pay increase, a reduced work week and other benefits.
The union has already rejected a record contract offer that included a 20% pay increase, along with thousands of dollars in bonuses and additional benefits. Instead, Fain has repeatedly held that the union is prepared to launch a full-scale strike. His rhetoric suggests he’s more committed to holding companies’ feet to fire than coming to an expedient agreement that both sides can stomach.
In fact, leaked messages reveal the union’s true motive may not be getting the best deal for workers, but doling out the worst punishment for the Big Three. The messages detail UAW communications director Jon Furman referring to the strikes as causing “recurring reputations [sic] damage and operational chaos.” He was also quoted calling to “keep them [Big Three] wounded for months.”
A member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a former staffer for Senator Bernie Sanders, Furman’s ire toward auto companies hardly inspires confidence in the union’s leadership.
This game of chicken could be catastrophic for workers across the country. For starters, auto workers on the picket lines are making a fraction of what they would otherwise earn on the job.
Right now, the UAW is sending striking workers $500 a week. For context, auto workers can make up to $32 an hour — over $1,200 a week — and that’s before adding additional benefits. Even for workers making the minimum of $18 an hour before benefits, $500 a week is a considerable drop in pay, especially as inflation continues to drive up costs nationwide. It’s unclear how many workers — if any at all — who are laid off as a result of the strike will be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Every time Fain announces a new slew of strikes, hundreds if not thousands of workers can expect reduced hours and layoffs, even if they’re not being called to the picket lines. General Motors idled an assembly plant in Kansas due to a parts shortage.
That meant 2,000 workers suddenly found themselves off the job. Almost 400 Stellantis workers were laid off across three factories. Ford laid off 600 workers — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg if the strike continues to expand. A recent report estimated an all-out 10-day strike could cause “economic losses exceeding $5 billion.”
Meanwhile, President Fain and other union executives who have masterminded this strike strategy have not reported any pay cuts. The most recent UAW president made over $200,000 a year. Shawn Fain’s latest available salary as an “administrative assistant” was almost $150,000. Although his latest salary is not yet available, it’s almost certain he’s seen a pay raise to match his recent promotion.
Fain is the first UAW president in decades to be elected by popular vote instead of by a delegate system. After a corruption scandal left many of the union’s old guard disgraced or behind bars, many members see Fain’s leadership as a much-needed change in the status quo.
But while Fain’s tactics may differ from the UAW of the past, it remains to be seen if the outcome leaves members any better off.
Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to transparency and accountability in today’s labor movement.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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