UAW strikes at General Motors plant in Texas as union goes after automakers’ cash cows

Ethan Pierce, left, a material handler of 23 years at General Motors, leads a line of picketers outside the company's assembly plant Tuesday in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

DETROIT — First it was Ford, then Stellantis, and now a General Motors factory has been added to the growing list of highly profitable plants where the United Auto Workers union is on strike.

On Tuesday, about 5,000 workers walked out at GM’s factory in Arlington, Texas, that makes big, high margin SUVs such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade.

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The strikes in Texas, as well as at the largest Ford factory in the world in Louisville, Kentucky, and a Stellantis plant that makes lucrative Ram pickups in Michigan, are aimed at getting the companies to capitulate to union demands for richer wages and benefits than the automakers so far have offered.

But judging from statements out of Detroit, the companies are at or near the limit on how much they’re willing to budge to end a series of targeted strikes now involving 46,000 workers that began on Sept. 15. About 32% of the union’s 146,000 members at the companies are on strike, and the automakers are laying off workers at other plants as parts shortages cascade through their systems.

In announcing the Arlington strike, UAW President Shawn Fain noted that GM posted big earnings on Tuesday, yet its offer to the union lags behind Ford, preserving a two-tier wage structure and offering the weakest 401(k) contribution of all three automakers.

“It’s time GM workers, and the whole working class, get their fair share,” Fain said.

But GM CEO Mary Barra told investors on the company’s earnings conference call that the automaker already has made a record offer and won’t sign a contract that jeopardizes the company’s future.

“We will not agree to a contract that isn’t responsible for our employees and for our shareholders,” she said. “We need to make sure we have a contract that is going to allow us to compete and win in what is a challenging market for EVs and also allows us to support the business that we have with strong margins in our (internal combustion engine) business.”

Last week, Ford told reporters that it had reached the limit of what it was willing to pay to end the nearly 6-week-old strike, bringing out Executive Chairman Bill Ford to urge strikers to return to work. On Monday, after the union took down the pickup plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, north of Detroit, Stellantis said it was “outraged” by the escalation because it improved its offer to include a 23% wage increase over four years.

All three automakers have said they won’t stick themselves with high labor costs that would make their vehicles more costly than nonunion competitors.

Talks continued Tuesday with Stellantis and Ford, with new offers from the union either coming or delivered at both companies. The status of talks with GM wasn’t clear.

Early on, the union struck at plants that didn’t make the companies’ most expensive and profitable vehicles. But as the strikes dragged on, Fain has targeted truck and SUV plants in an effort to empty the companies’ wallets.

At the same time, workers are getting by on $500 per week of strike pay, hardly enough to pay the monthly bills. The payments also are making a dent in the union’s strike fund, which was $825 million when the strikes began. Fain said it was still healthy.

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