To say that the new president of the United Auto Workers union is unhappy with the three Detroit automakers would be an understatement.
Shawn Fain, who took office in March after workers voted to remove most of the union’s former leaders, listed the grievances of Stellantis, General Motors and Ford in a wide-ranging chat with reporters Friday.
The disputes will surely become part of national contract negotiations between the union and the auto companies that begin this summer. The agreements with all three expire on September 14 and the negotiation is expected to be contentious.
Speaking to the Automotive Press Association in Detroit, Fain said members are demanding the union get back the cost-of-living wage increases and pensions they lost, and the elimination of tiers of workers who are paid differently but do the same jobs. . They also want assurances that high-paying union jobs will be preserved as companies transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones.
Auto companies, he said, have made billions in the past decade, but workers haven’t gotten their fair share since the companies ran into financial trouble in 2009.
“I want to work with companies. I want to have a good relationship,” Fain said. “But if they’re not going to treat our members with respect and give them their fair share, then we’re going to be in trouble.”
His biggest problem, however, seemed to be with Stellantis, which is moving to close a factory in Belvidere, Illinois. The company also didn’t include the union when it announced a joint venture electric vehicle battery factory in Kokomo, Indiana, Fain said.
Asked if closing the Belvidere plant was a red line for the union that would lead to a strike, Fain said he did not want to talk about the union’s plans.
“It is unacceptable what they have done there,” he said. “And I’ve been very clear with the corporation that we expect things to change.”
Stellantis placed the Belvidere plant on “idle” in February and laid off most of its roughly 1,350 workers. The company had no comment on Friday.
The three companies have announced plans to build multiple joint venture battery factories across the US, and only GM has so far recognized the union to bargain for workers, at a plant near Warren, Ohio. Fain said. GM has two more battery plants under construction in Tennessee and Michigan, and Ford is planning an assembly plant in Tennessee and three new battery plants in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Fain said he understands the need to form companies to gain access to technology, but “they cannot form joint ventures with the intent and purpose of also circumventing commitment to our members and agreements.”
He said there’s no reason companies can’t form a joint venture with the union so workers have somewhere to go when plants that make things for internal combustion vehicles close. Fain said he expects changes now with the battery plants, but the companies may want to wait for contract negotiations.
GM, he said, is offering $16.50 an hour with a maximum wage of $20 at the Ohio battery plant, although it takes two years of training to do the jobs. Those salaries, he said, would set members back 10 to 15 years. Production workers now earn about $32 an hour.
“That’s a race to the bottom,” Fain said of GM’s offer. “These should be wages higher than our production standards, not lower.”
Ford and GM said in statements that they look forward to working with the union. Ultium Cells LLC, GM’s battery joint venture, would not comment on the deal, but said it would work in good faith with the UAW to reach an agreement.