“The local union told my [co-worker] to have burn barrels and port-a-potties ready. So we are getting ready,” said Bill Bagwell, a longtime GM worker at a warehouse in Ypsilanti, Mich., referring to the steel drums used as fire pits on chilly nights during strikes. He’s signed up for strike shifts every Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to midnight starting next week, in case a strike is called.
The union in recent days dialed back its original demand for a 40 percent raise over four years to the mid-30s, according to people familiar with the talks, confirming an earlier report by Automotive News. One person said the UAW was asking for a 36 percent raise over four years as of Monday night. On the company side, Ford and GM started out offering raises of 9 to 10 percent over four years, with Stellantis then boosting that to 14.5 percent.
UAW President Shawn Fain, who has spent the past several days shuttling between the companies to join the negotiations, says the union will strike against any company that hasn’t reached a deal with the UAW by the expiration of the current contract at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.
“We’ve made progress, a little bit of progress. It’s still slow. But we’re moving. So, we have a long way to go,” Fain told CNN in an interview Monday evening.
It isn’t clear how many factories or workers might be affected by a work stoppage. During a strike, workers will get paid $500 a week out of the UAW’s $825 million strike fund. If all 150,000 UAW autoworkers strike at once, the fund will last less than three months. Some analysts think the union is more likely to take a more targeted approach and shut only certain plants that can hobble overall production.
The last UAW strike, in 2019, targeted GM only. The union hasn’t held a national strike against Ford since 1976 and against Stellantis or its predecessor company, Chrysler, since 1973, according to Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Jeremy Rickert, an axle-factory worker in the Detroit area who has been at Ford for 25 years, says the family-controlled company was long viewed as caring more about its workers than other automakers did. But lately he thinks the company has treated shareholders as the bigger priority.
“We’ve never been in a strike at Ford Motor Company since my hire-in, but I believe this membership is so engaged in this that you’re not going to have a hard time getting people out there,” Rickert said. Workers in his plant began signing up for strike shifts this week in case a work stoppage happens, he said.
Rickert and his spouse, who have one child in college and another in eighth grade, have been saving in anticipation of a strike. “We’ve literally cut out as much as possible … whether it’s just a simple carwash or what have you, we try to avoid that now,” said Rickert, who makes about $33 an hour. “Every penny could count if we’re out on strike for a period of time.”
Ford didn’t immediately provide comment but has said it is working hard to reach a deal with the union in an effort to preserve U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Bagwell, the longtime GM worker in Ypsilanti, has been paying his bills early and paying down his credit card debt to get ready, he said. The strike pay will cover his rent, but he’s slashing spending on other items.
The 38-year GM veteran makes about $32 an hour at the warehouse, which distributes parts to repair already-sold GM vehicles. Newer workers there start at about $17 an hour and top out at $25, he said.
During the 2019 strike, GM asked some managers to drive forklifts at the warehouse to keep parts flowing. “They weren’t very successful but they did get some parts out,” he said.
A report in the Detroit Free Press last month said Ford was making similar plans, asking its white-collar workers to prepare to work in a parts distribution warehouse in case of a strike. Ford didn’t respond to a request for comment on that.
Asked how it is preparing for a strike, GM said: “The safety and security of our employees is the guiding principle during any business continuity planning. For competitive reasons, we don’t share the specific details of those plans.”