UAW members attend a rally in support of the union strike at the UAW Local 551 Hall on the South Side in Chicago, Illinois, on October 7, 2023.

Jim Vondruska | Getty Images

DETROIT – The United Auto Workers have secured record contracts with Detroit automakers after contentious talks and about six weeks of targeted strikes. But not all union members are satisfied with the preliminary agreements.

The agreements recommended for ratification by UAW leaders were on track to pass as of Tuesday morning, but support is waning. The agreements have met with clear rejection in recent days at major Ford Motor and especially General Motors plants. Workers at Chrysler owner Stellantis are still in early voting but have largely supported the contract so far.

At least three major assembly plants, representing 9,730 or 21% of the 46,000 GM employees represented by the UAW, voted against the pact. These include 61% ownership of the Lansing Delta Township plant in Michigan, which makes Buick and Chevrolet crossovers; 67.5% scrap at a Cadillac and GMC crossover plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee; and 52% opposed at the GM truck plant in Flint, Michigan. A handful of other smaller plants also voted against the deal.

At Ford, 54.5% of members voted against the automaker’s Kentucky Truck Plant – its largest in terms of employment and sales.

The UAW has reached tentative agreements with each automaker so each will be voted on separately. One or more might fail while another ratifies. They are not dependent on each other.

There are varying reasons for the rejection, according to industry experts and UAW members who spoke to CNBC. Experienced workers fear they won’t receive as much as newer workers under the terms of the agreements, including retirement benefits. They are also concerned about the language in the interim agreements. There is also ongoing distrust of union leadership following previous corruption scandals involving former union leaders.

Others point to UAW President Shawn Fain’s inflated expectations for a 40% pay raise, traditional pensions and retiree health care for all, the elimination of “steps” and a 32-hour work week.

“I don’t think the tentative agreement goes far enough. I think it’s divisive. It doesn’t eliminate the tiers and doesn’t meet all of our needs as a whole,” said Brian Keller, a former UAW presidential candidate in several past elections and an outspoken contributor to Stellantis’ Mopar parts operation. “Remember that we were stagnant from bankruptcy until 2015. We have not received any wage increases.”

Record deals, with some caveats

The UAW’s tentative agreements with automakers include:

  • 25% wage increase, including 11% upon ratification
  • Reintroduce cost of living adjustments to wages
  • a three-year progression to top wages instead of eight years
  • Billions in new investments
  • the involvement of some battery workers

Important goals they did not contain:

  • 40% general wage increase
  • Complete abolition of wage and performance levels
  • a 32-hour week
  • Post-retirement health insurance and traditional pensions for all

According to UAW vote trackers, Ford is closest to ratifying the pact, with about 65% approval, as most major plants have already voted. As of Tuesday morning, 52% of GM workers had voted in favor of ratification so far. However, the Lansing Delta Township plant did not vote against the pact. Stellantis, which is still in early voting, currently has about 82% of members supporting the pact. Most of his major works still need to be voted on.

The UAW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the voting results or when the union expects voting to end. Each local UAW chapter conducts its own vote.

The union has touted that the agreements would provide the union with $23 billion in new gains – four times more than the last negotiations in 2019. There were also more gains for experienced workers than the entirety of the last agreements and a historic step in that direction “Equal pay for equal work,” a cornerstone of organized labor, according to the union.

The union prioritized reinstating cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) over increasing some bonuses, including ratification bonuses, which fell from up to $11,000 during the last round of negotiations four years ago to $5,000 under these tentative agreements.

What does Fain tell its members?

Fain, speaking during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, has repeatedly emphasized that UAW members are the highest power in the union and will ultimately decide whether the agreements are ratified. But Fain held an online broadcast last week to address some concerns, including about COLA, bonuses and other topics.

“I firmly believe that these are record contracts and a great victory for our movement,” Fain said Wednesday during the vote. “Many in the media and in the corporate world said we didn’t know what we were doing. And they thought we’d never get a deal. But then we got all three.”

Keller, who ran for president against Fain but supported him in a runoff against incumbent UAW President Ray Curry, said he also had concerns about the consolidation of the Mopar parts plants, possible layoffs in the future and other language in the contract.

Timothy Orner, who works in fleet operations at the Stellantis Jeep complex in Toledo, is concerned about changes to 401(k) benefits based on a 40-hour work week with a company contribution of 10%, compared to an annual contribution of 6.4% pay, including overtime.

UAW President Shawn Fain greets members attending a rally in support of the union strike at the UAW Local 551 Hall on the South Side on October 7, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jim Vondruska | Getty Images

“Just because it’s a double digit number doesn’t make it better,” said Orner, who in 2009 was among the first so-called Tier 2 workers hired without a traditional pension and reduced benefits. “There’s no more ‘30 and out.’ They want you to work longer and get things done longer.”

The UAW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the 401(k) change outlined in the agreement.

Fain admitted last week that he didn’t get everything he wanted for his UAW retirement, including pensions and health care. He said these benefits remain a target for future negotiations when the interim agreements, if ratified, expire on April 30, 2028.

What concerns do experienced employees have?

A veteran Ford worker with 25 years of experience said it was frustrating that Fain didn’t deliver on what he promised to do with traditional or Tier 1 employees compared to newer employees, also known as developing or Tier 2 workers, to be rewarded.

“Tier 1 gave back in 2008 and we feel like we lost a lot of money in 17 years,” said the worker, who did not want to be identified for fear of criticism or retaliation from the union. “It’s sad that this group of people worked for an entire career without ever getting paid. He did not make it. He made Tier 2 whole.”

China Jones, a 23-year-old worker at the Louisville assembly plant, shared a similar sentiment. “Older veterans like us made the sacrifices for them [the automakers]” she told a local television station. “And we get nothing out of it.”

GM, which has the lowest support for the deal so far, has the highest percentage of traditional workers, followed by Ford and then Stellantis. Stellantis also made far greater use of temporary workers, most of whom are converted into full-time workers by the end of the contracts and are entitled to top wages.

“The [workers] “People who were hired before 2008 will be less enthusiastic about the contract, especially because they get the 25% that everyone had, but the new hires, temporary workers and transitional workers could get up to 160% or so,” says Art Wheaton, a labor professor at Cornell University’s Worker Institute. “Ratification votes can be done on a farm-by-farm basis based on the population structure at that particular location.”

What happens next?

If members of one of the automakers, such as GM, reject their pact, UAW leaders would have to decide next steps, whether to return to the negotiating table, launch strikes or both.

Marick Masters, an economics professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said a rejection of a deal or an even closer vote than expected could harm the union’s ability to organize other companies – a goal Fain is pushing.

“One of the things that workers in non-union facilities will be dealing with is this ratification vote,” Masters said. “They’ll want to know why some workers didn’t vote to ratify it, given that it’s a record deal… That’s going to be a food for thought that the union will have to be prepared for if it passes.” , to organize these non-union facilities.

Fain said the union has received an influx of interest and support from non-union auto workers. He said the UAW still has goals in its sights that were not achieved in these negotiations.

“There are too many non-union autoworkers and too much power behind the forces of corporate greed for us to achieve everything we deserve all at once. That is why we are building our strike strength to go even further in 2028,” he said on Wednesday.

Following the UAW’s tentative agreements, U.S. non-union automakers such as Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and Hyundai Motor increased wages for factory workers.

According to Reuters, Hyundai said on Monday that it would raise factory worker wages by 25% through 2028, matching the overall wage increase the UAW has enforced over that period. Toyota increased factory wages by 9% to 10% starting in January, while Honda said it would increase wages by 11% over the same period.

“We call this the UAW boom,” Fain told senators on Tuesday. “It stands for ‘U Are Welcome’.”

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