The United Auto Workers expanded its strikes against Detroit automakers General Motors GM-N and Chrysler parent Stellantis STLA-N, but kept its Ford F-N walkout limited to a single plant owing to progress made in talks, the union said on Friday.
The auto workers’ union began strikes at noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Friday against 38 parts distribution centres across the United States at GM and Stellantis, extending its unprecedented, simultaneous strikes that began with one assembly plant each of the Detroit Three. The additional facilities added about 5,600 workers to the 12,700 already on strike.
UAW president Shawn Fain, in a Facebook live event, said that by targeting distribution centres the strike becomes a nationwide event. Mr. Fain told reporters he expected talks would continue over the weekend.
The announcement was carefully managed by the union, leaving the automakers guessing what facilities might be struck next. Many analysts had assumed the next targets would be plants building the companies’ most profitable vehicles.
Instead, Mr. Fain said the decision on the expanded strike would impact consumers trying to obtain repair parts. The distribution centres are parts warehouses that ship parts to dealers and other retailers for use in car repairs. “We will be everywhere from California to Massachusetts, from Oregon to Florida.”
At a GM parts distribution centre outside Philadelphia, picketing workers said the strike will result in cars sitting longer for repairs, but that is the only way to get the higher wages they seek.
“If you look at the past few years, car prices went up 30 per cent but our wages went up 6% per cent We are not the problem,” said Thomas Morris, 60, who has worked at the centre in Langhorne, Penn., for the past four decades. “I understand it’s going to cost some pain for people, but we are just looking for fairness.”
“Stellantis and GM in particular are going to need some serious pushing,” Mr. Fain said.
Mr. Fain said they have more work to do at Ford, but “we do want to recognize that Ford is showing they’re serious about reaching a deal.” Ford shares closed up almost 2 per cent on Friday.
He also threatened more action at Stellantis’ critical-parts plants in his hometown of Kokomo, Ind. Stellantis has four factories in Kokomo that make engines and transmissions used widely across the automaker’s product line.
Stellantis has said it wants to be able to consolidate and close some of its parts distribution centres.
Mr. Fain invited U.S. President Joe Biden to come to the picket lines. The President has been vocal in his support for the union’s demands for better pay and benefits. A White House source said on Friday that Mr. Biden will visit Michigan next Tuesday to speak about the strike.
Former president Donald Trump, who is seeking a new term, will be in Michigan next week to address auto workers.
Mr. Fain said Ford had improved its contract offer, including boosting profit sharing and agreeing to let workers strike over plant closures but said the union still has “serious issues” with Ford.
Ford also agreed to convert temporary employees with at least 90 days’ employment to full-time upon ratification of a deal, he said.
By cutting the first deal during UAW talks, an automaker often seeks to give itself an advantage by agreeing to terms that may hurt rivals more. For instance, Ford has fewer temporary employees than Stellantis, which has also idled a plant in Illinois.
GM said in a statement that UAW leaders are “manipulating the bargaining process for their own personal agendas” and called the strike escalation “unnecessary.” Stellantis said on Thursday it made a “very competitive offer” and said the union’s leadership seems “more concerned about pursuing their own political agendas.”
GM, which said it had contingency plans it did not specify to protect its business and customers, said it has made five separate offers to the union.
Ford said it is continuing to negotiate, adding that “we have more work ahead of us before we can reach an agreement.”
Nearly 13,000 UAW workers walked out at plants in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio on Sept 15. Those plants produce the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Colorado, alongside other popular models.
Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said this latest move by the UAW marks a divergence in the talks with the automakers.
“The current deal is a torpedo to the business models of the Detroit Three,” he said. “To take a deal just to avoid a strike and get it done is great for the next 24 hours but a nightmare for the next 30 years.”
Sam Fiorani, vice-president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions, said Ford’s family-controlled structure gives it a different focus than the other two.
“GM and Stellantis are looking at stockholder value and Ford is looking a lot more long-term that they have to make friends with labour.”
The standoff is fuelling worries about prolonged industrial action that could disrupt production and dent U.S. economic growth. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday showed significant support by Americans for the striking auto workers.
The strike has become a focus for Mr. Biden and Republican presidential candidates. The UAW’s invitation to Mr. Biden is notable, given the union has not yet endorsed him in the next election.
The automakers have proposed 20-per-cent raises over 4-1/2 years, while the UAW is seeking 40 per cent.
The union also wants to eliminate wage gaps separating newer and older employees, as well as workers in certain component operations and those in assembly plants. Mr. Fain said on Friday that the union had negotiated the elimination of lower wage tiers in some components facilities at Ford and GM. But Stellantis has not agreed to raise wages at its MOPAR component operations, Mr. Fain said.