The United Automobile Workers union significantly increased pressure on General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Jeep and Ram, on Friday by expanding its strike against the companies to include all of the two companies’ parts distribution centers.
By extending the strike to the distribution centers that deliver parts to dealers for repairs, the union is effectively reaching out to consumers, some of whom may find it difficult or impossible to get their cars and trucks repaired. The strategy could put pressure on automakers to make more concessions to the union, but it could negatively impact the union by frustrating car owners and turning them against the UAW
Shawn Fain, the union’s president, said Friday that workers at 38 distribution centers owned by the two companies would walk off their jobs. He said talks with two companies had not progressed significantly and compared them to Ford Motor, which he said had done more to meet the union’s demands.
“We will be closing parts distribution centers until these two companies come to their senses and come to the negotiating table,” Mr. Fain said.
Affected locations include 18 GM distribution centers employing a total of 3,475 workers and 20 Stellantis centers employing 2,150 UAW members, according to the union. The move brings the total number of striking UAW workers to over 18,000.
“Today’s escalation of the strike by UAW senior leadership is unnecessary,” GM said in a statement Friday. “We have contingency plans for various scenarios and are prepared to do what is best for our company, our customers and our dealers.”
Stellantis said in a statement Friday that union leaders “seemed more interested in pursuing their own political goals than negotiating in the best interests of our employees.” The automaker added that it had made an offer that would provide an average salary increase of 21.4 percent over four years for full-time employees.
The union declared that it would no longer strike at Ford factories because of the successes achieved in talks with that company. “Let’s be clear: We’re not done at Ford yet,” Mr. Fain said. “We have serious issues to resolve, but we want to recognize that Ford is serious about reaching an agreement.”
Ford said in a statement it was working “diligently” toward an agreement but was still at odds with the union on issues such as wages. “While we are making progress in some areas, we still have significant gaps to close on key economic issues,” the company said. “Ultimately, the issues are interconnected and must work together as part of an overall agreement that supports our shared success.”
President Biden will travel to Michigan on Tuesday to support striking UAW members, according to two people familiar with the planning. Earlier on Friday, Mr. Fain invited the president to join workers on the strike line.
Mr. Biden strongly supported UAW members in his remarks at the White House last week. However, the union has at times expressed discomfort with the president’s policies on electric vehicles and withheld its endorsement for the 2024 presidential election. The union usually supports the Democratic candidate.
The parts distribution closure will likely hurt dealers’ ability to repair and service vehicles, said Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“Nowadays there is no stock of parts at dealers. So when dealers need parts, they can’t get them,” he said. “It won’t stop GM and Stellantis from making cars, but dealers will be angry and customers will be angry.”
Auto mechanics said the supply of spare parts, which was significantly affected during the pandemic, would now become even more difficult.
Alan Heriford, owner of JoCo Auto Repair in Merriam, Kansas, said he was told he wouldn’t get a module for a GM truck at his shop for six to eight months. Typically the modules cost $500, but used and salvaged units are now selling for about $3,000.
“The dealer said he didn’t know when he would be there,” Mr Heriford said. Independent workshops like his often have to buy new parts from the car manufacturers’ authorized dealers.
His customers are already asking him how the strikes will affect repair work. “You’re not going to tell anyone everything is going to be okay, because it might not be,” he said.
By targeting only GM and Stellantis distribution centers, the UAW appears to be rewarding Ford for showing a greater willingness to accommodate the union’s demands. Mr. Fain said Ford agreed to adjust workers’ wages in response to inflation, increase their profit-sharing bonuses, allow the right to strike during plant closures and convert all current contract workers to full-time workers.
Mr Fain said GM and Stellantis’ offers on these fronts were unacceptable.
Professor Wheaton said the union was taking a “carrot and stick” approach. In the union’s view, “Ford is trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Still, tensions between the union and automakers were high and escalating even before Mr. Fain announced the strike’s expansion. On Thursday, private messages sent by a union communications manager via X, formerly known as Twitter, appeared to indicate that union leaders were pleased that the strike appeared to be hurting the three manufacturers.
Jonah Furman, who was hired to lead the UAW’s media relations after Mr. Fain took office this year, wrote in the notes that the strike was causing “reputational damage and operational chaos” to automakers.
The contents of the messages were revealed in The Detroit News.
GM said in a statement that the leaked messages showed a “callous disregard for the seriousness of what the strike is about.”
“It is now clear that the UAW leadership always intended to cause months of unrest, regardless of the harm it caused to its members and their communities,” the company added.
The UAW declined to comment.
Extending the shutdown increases risks for both sides and could force other automakers and their suppliers’ factories to halt production. All three companies said that because of the disruption caused by these strikes, they had to halt production and lay off workers who did not participate in the strikes called by the UAW last week.
The union is paying striking workers $500 a week from its $825 million strike fund, while manufacturers face tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue every day the affected factories are idle.
According to a report by the Anderson Economic Group, the economic cost of the first week of the strike was $1.6 billion, including more than $500 million in business losses and more than $100 million in lost wages, not including strike funds included.
A week ago, the union called on workers to strike at a GM pickup plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford factory in Michigan that makes the Bronco sport utility vehicle; and a Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio, owned by Stellantis.
The union is calling for a significant wage increase, pointing out that automakers have made high profits and increased the salaries of their chief executives over the past decade. The union initially demanded a 40 percent increase over four years; The companies offered around 20 percent.
The UAW also wants more workers to be eligible for pensions, company-paid health insurance for retirees, shorter hours and job security for workers if manufacturers close plants in the future. It also wanted to eliminate a wage system that requires new hires to start at about $17 an hour and stay on the job for eight years to reach the top wage of $32 an hour.
Peter Berg, a labor relations professor at Michigan State University, said the UAW’s strategy of limiting strikes to specific locations has reduced the cost of supporting workers from its strike fund but has hurt manufacturers because those plants are some of their most profitable Manufacture vehicles.
“The question is: Can the union maintain solidarity and keep everyone together if this continues for several more weeks?” he said. “I think the union is in a strong position. This is a moment when there is a power shift towards workers.”
Earlier this week, workers demonstrating at Stellantis’ North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, said they were energized and ready to join the strike if asked.
“President Fain is having an argument,” said Marnice Alford, who works in the paint shop at a Stellantis plant in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. “I like it.”
Santul Nerkar and J. Edward Moreno contributed reporting.