STRIKE WATCH - United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain criticized the Big Three car manufacturers' latest contract offers as woefully inadequate late Wednesday and made clear that, with existing labor agreements set to expire in a matter of hours, a historic strike is now likely.
In a negotiation update streamed on social media, Fain said union negotiators are "seeing movement from the companies" but not nearly enough.
Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis have respectively proposed wage increases of 20%, 18%, and 17.5% over the course of a four-year contract—well below the UAW's demand for a 36% wage increase to make up for years of falling autoworker pay amid rising corporate profits and surging executive compensation.
Since 2003, autoworkers have seen their average hourly wage decline by 30%. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the Big Three automakers have raked in more than $250 billion in profits and rewarded shareholders with tens of billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividend payouts.
"They could double our raises and not raise car prices—and still make billions of dollars in profit," Fain said Wednesday. "They spent more money enriching shareholders in a year than they spent on us in the entirety of the last contract cycle."
The UAW leader also said the companies have rejected the union's demand for an increase in retiree pay, restoration of pensions and retiree health benefits that workers gave up during the industry's crisis more than a decade ago, and an end to compensation tiers that harm newer employees.
"The Big Three can afford to immediately give us our fair share," Fain said. "If they choose not to, then they're choosing to strike themselves, and we are not afraid to take action."
Fain, the first UAW president elected directly by rank-and-file members, slammed the automakers and corporate media outlets for fearmongering over the potential economic impacts of a strike and not putting workers' demands in the context of surging company profits and executive pay.
"They want to scare the American people into thinking that autoworkers are the problem," Fain said. "Corporate greed is the problem. Come tomorrow night, if they force us, we're about to make it the Big Three's problem."
The UAW's current contracts with the Big Three automakers expire just before midnight on Thursday. With no agreement on the table, the UAW is planning to launch what it is calling a " Stand-Up Strike," which it describes as "our generation's answer to the movement that built our union, the Sit-Down Strikes of 1937."
"Instead of striking all plants all at once, select locals will be called on to 'Stand Up' and walk out on strike," the UAW explains on its website. "As time goes on, more locals may be called on to 'Stand Up' and join the strike. This gives us maximum leverage and maximum flexibility in our fight to win a fair contract at each of the Big Three automakers."
The union emphasized that a strike at every Big Three facility is "still on the table." Last month, 97% of participating UAW members voted to authorize strikesat the Big Three if adequate contract deals aren't in place by late Thursday.
Such strikes would mark the first time UAW members have simultaneously walked off the job at all three major automakers.
"We are preparing to strike these companies in a way they've never seen before," Fain said during Wednesday's livestream. "The Stand-Up Strike will keep the companies guessing. It's going to rely on discipline, organization, and creativity."
"I'm at peace with the decision to strike if we have to because I know that we're on the right side in this battle," said Fain. "It's a battle of the working class against the rich, the haves versus the have-nots, the billionaire class against everybody else."
(Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.)