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The UAW unveils major plan if talks with Big 3 automakers fail: The 'stand up strike'

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain talks with members at a Labor Day parade in Detroit, on Sept. 4, 2023. Fain plans to undertake strategic strikes at Big 3 automaker plants if talks fail on a new contract.
Paul Sancya
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain talks with members at a Labor Day parade in Detroit, on Sept. 4, 2023. Fain plans to undertake strategic strikes at Big 3 automaker plants if talks fail on a new contract.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain has a big plan in case the Big Three automakers fail to agree on a new contract by the looming deadline: He calls it the "stand up strike."

Under the plan disclosed by Fain on Facebook Live on Wednesday, UAW union members would be instructed to strike suddenly at strategic, targeted auto plants — and additional locations would follow at a moment's notice, unless the automakers agree to new contracts before the current ones expire just before midnight on Thursday.

A gradual escalation of the strikes across the three companies, Fain said, would keep Stellantis, Ford and GM on their toes about how their operations would be disrupted, giving the union more leverage.

Only workers at a specific set of plants – to be announced Thursday evening – would walk off the job initially, while all others would keep working under expired contracts.

"It's going to keep (the companies) guessing on what might happen next, and it's going to turbocharge the power of our negotiators to be as effective as possible," Fain said.

The strategy hearkens back to sit down strikes of the 1930s, when GM workers physically occupied plants in protest of economic inequality.

"We're living in a time of stunning inequality throughout our society," Fain said. "We're living in a time where our industry is undergoing massive transformations, and we're living in a time where our labor movement is redefining itself."

Far apart

Fain disclosed the strike plans as he told UAW union members that they still stand far apart in contract negotiations with the Big 3.

Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have all raised their pay raise proposals since their opening bids – but to no more than 20%, just half of the union's 40% ask, Fain said.

The companies have also rejected the union's pension and retiree healthcare proposals, according to Fain. Other economic issues, including cost of living adjustments and profit sharing, remain points of contention.

"We do not yet have offers on the table that reflect the sacrifice and contributions our members have made to these companies," Fain told union members. "To win, we'll likely have to take action."

Deadline looms

A targeted strike plan has not traditionally been in the UAW's playbook. Historically, UAW strikes have involved all union members at a single company walking off the job at once.

Fain did not entirely rule out a coordinated strike across all plants, but he said the new "stand up strike" offers the union "maximum flexibility."

In a statement responding to UAW's strike preparations, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the automaker has put forth four "increasingly generous" offers. Ford remains "ready to reach a deal," Farley said.

"The future of our industry is at stake," Farley said. "Let's do everything we can to avert a disastrous outcome."

Fain said he, along with other top UAW leaders and Sen. Bernie Sanders, will attend a rally in Detroit on Friday, regardless of how negotiations pan out over the next 24 hours.

"I want you to be ready to stand up against corporate greed," Fain told UAW members on Wednesday. "So let's stand up and make history together."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.