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5 reasons why the UAW strike could last a while

“There’s really nothing it can be compared to,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, who has studied organized labor in the United States since the 1980s and now directs research at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Cornell University.

Other unknowns include the makeup of the employers involved and Shawn Fain’s brief history as union president.

The strike enters its fifth day Tuesday as talks continue between the UAW and General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. For the moment, fewer than 13,000 workers out of the 150,000 in the Big Three are unemployed. The longer the work stoppage lasts and the more it spreads to other factories will determine whether it is a minor incident or a more serious problem for the economy and President Joe Biden’s political fortunes.

Here are five reasons why the UAW strike is in uncharted territory:

The union is pioneering a new approach to leaving work.

The first work stoppages took place Friday at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio; and a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan. Other local unions, meanwhile, said they were ready to walk off the job “any minute, any hour, any time.”

The staggered, cross-employer approach is much less common and much more difficult to implement than a traditional strike, experts said, making the outcome difficult to predict.

“Striking all three companies at the same time and then launching a rotating strike is really, really smart,” said Steve Rosenthal, former political director of the AFL-CIO, who worked at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. “The discipline it takes to put something like this together is pretty extraordinary, and they seem ready for a fight.”

The strategy also has the benefit of maximizing the union’s $825 million strike fund. The UAW pays strikers $500 a week, meaning it could cover its nearly 150,000 Big Three members for about 11 weeks if they took to the picket line at the same time.

The initial work stoppage was for less than a tenth of that total, although the union also promised to extend aid to workers laid off by companies as a result of the strikes – as Ford did shortly after the announcement of the limited strike.

Stellantis, based in Europe, is not subject to the same public pressure as GM and Ford.

Both Ford and GM are headquartered in the United States, where the president has publicly sided with union workers and a recent poll found that adults support them 2 to 1.

“The political support within the progressive community and the labor movement is really strong,” Rosenthal said. And “the public figures have exploded”.

Stellantis, however, is based in the Netherlands, making it less likely to succumb to pressures created by American perceptions.

“Everyone agrees that they are not subject to public influence as much because they are a foreign company,” Bronfenbrenner said. On the other hand, “Ford and GM are truly invested in American consumers and care more about public opinion. They care more about what the president says.

Current law does not require White House involvement as does other strikes.

Federal labor law allows the White House to impose a resolution when contract negotiations affect airlines, railroads or trade flows — pretty much “anything that endangers the nation’s food supply chain.” , Bronfenbrenner said.

But “those three companies don’t have a monopoly, so there are other places people can go,” she said. “I just can’t imagine a national emergency because of this. »

It’s Fain’s first big test as UAW president after winning the job by a narrow margin.

Fain defeated incumbent leader Ray Curry earlier this year by just a few hundred votes. The narrow margin and short path to the work stoppage make it unclear whether it can inspire the kind of solidarity needed to see this ambitious strike through.

So far, the reviews seem to be in its favor.

“I think he’s winning over the people,” said Jody Calemine, director of labor and employment policy at the Century Foundation and former chief of staff for the Communications Workers of America. “He was transparent, explained what was happening and why he was doing what he was doing.”

But the strike has lasted less than a week. A resounding victory could cement Fain’s place at the top of the union for years to come, while contract terms that fail to meet members’ expectations could prompt them to look elsewhere.

There is still a big gap between the union and the Big Three.

The companies have proposed increases of around 20 percent, while the UAW is demanding double that. Talks between the sides have continued since the strike began, a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Monday.

Beyond salaries, there are many other issues that will be difficult to resolve.

The union said it was seeking to erase concessions made when the industry was on the brink of collapse after the Great Recession, namely a new tiered pay structure that offered new hires a lower rate and benefits smaller social groups.

“Prioritization is a problem that causes a lot of division even within staff,” Calemine said. “A contract that does not address levels risks not being ratified.”

The UAW also wants to be able to strike to protest factory closures, which automakers say would only further disrupt their operations as they go through a complicated transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.

“They’re going to have to tackle the end levels,” Fain said Monday on MSNBC. “They are going to have to tackle pay rates and cost of living allowance. The majority of our workers currently have no retirement security. It’s a big problem. And then there are our retirees… This causes a lot of concern.”

The companies say the UAW’s proposals are unworkable. They say their implementation would put them at a disadvantage compared to foreign automakers and non-union competitors, particularly Tesla.

Stellantis officials met with the UAW on Monday, and the company later reiterated its confidence in the “compelling and strong package” it presented last week.


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