For six weeks, members of the United Auto Workers have been on strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, parent company of the car brands Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram. Demanding significant wage increases and improved job security, the union employed a bold strategy of slowly expanding its labor action to more plants as time progressed. After starting at three factories owned by each of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, the UAW gradually added more locations to the strike, confounding management and raising fears that the action could continue indefinitely.
The UAW’s tactics appear to have worked: the union reached a tentative deal with GM on Monday after negotiating similar agreements with the other two major automakers weeks earlier. Although it still needs to be ratified by membership, the deal would give car workers their most generous pay increases in decades. According to experts, these raises could further strain automakers as they prepare to invest heavily in electric vehicles (EVs) in the coming years. “The three tentative agreements show the UAW’s power and the car companies’ weakness,” said Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan. “The companies are trying to figure out how to transition to EVs without losing too many billions of dollars, and now face a huge bump in labor costs for the products that will finance the EV transition.”
Nonunion automakers like Toyota and Tesla could take advantage of the Big Three’s increased costs by reducing prices for their own EVs. Still, analysts predict that these companies will likely experience more drives for unionization given the success of the UAW’s strike. In fact, union president Shawn Fain recently said the UAW will “organize like we’ve never organized before” in an effort to turn nonunion shops into unionized workplaces. The UAW’s new contract is the latest win for organized labor in 2023, preceded by victories from the Writers Guild of America and Kaiser Permanente employees. Meanwhile, negotiations between members of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Hollywood management will continue this week as both sides look to resolve a strike that has persisted for more than three months.
- What was the UAW’s strategy as it went on strike against the Big Three automakers? Why do you think these tactics worked?
- Do you think the UAW’s victory against the Big Three automakers will lead to more organizing efforts at nonunion car companies? Why or why not?
Sources: Jack Ewing and Neal E. Boudette, “Autoworkers Score Big Wins in New Contracts With Carmakers,” The New York Times, October 30, 2023; Tom Krisher, “UAW Reaches Deal With General Motors That Ends Strikes Against Detroit Automakers Pending Votes,” Associated Press, October 30, 2023.