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Strike likely; UAW plans staggered walkouts to ‘keep companies guessing’

Shawn Fain, national president of the United Auto Workers, said the union is planning what he calls a "stand-up strike" that targets specific plants when contracts expire at midnight Thursday. (Screenshot)
  • The contracts expire at day's end Thursday, and union leaders say they will not be extended.
  • The 150,000 national UAW workers in the Big Three will keep working without a contract, but could be called upon to strike at any time. 
  • A staggered strike across all facilities for varying days and durations would give the union increased leverage, the union president said Wednesday

The United Auto Workers is preparing what it calls a “stand-up strike” against targeted Big Three plants to create confusion among automakers when contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

“We are preparing to strike these companies in a way they’ve never seen before,” UAW National President Shawn Fain said Wednesday during a Facebook Live address that attracted nearly 30,000 viewers.

Under the plan, locals would go on strike with little notice, and could be asked to go back to work to keep the automakers engaged in contract negotiations guessing which plant will be a target, when it will strike and for how long. 


Fain said he plans to announce which union locals will strike at 10 p.m. Thursday. A rally is planned at 4 p.m. Friday at the UAW-Ford National Programs Center in Detroit.

“This is our defining moment, and it’s time to go to work,” he said.

The strike details were released as negotiations between the UAW and the Big Three automakers leave both sides ``very far apart” despite some progress, Fain said.

Fain said the goal is not to have a total walkout against Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of the former Fiat-Chrysler. 

However, Fain said union officials prepared for the possibility due to a wide gap between the UAW and automakers. He also noted that for the first time in UAW history, all three automakers would be targeted.

Any walkout by the UAW, which has 150,000 members, would affect the national economy and especially Michigan.

Talk of the strike potential dominated conversation the first day of the Detroit Auto Show, where major automakers, suppliers and innovators fill Huntington Place to show off the latest moves in the industry. 

“We're focused on the potential ramifications,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHAuto, the automotive arm of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “The industry is getting ready and communities (with Big Three factories) are getting ready,” 

Among concerns are the potential duration of a strike and what that will do to the health of the Big Three, their suppliers and what Michigan’s share of the industry looks like once a strike concludes. 

About 300,000 Michigan workers are hourly workers connected to the auto industry, with wages in the billions of dollars. Tens of thousands more are salaried workers, including at the Big Three’s headquarters and tech centers in the state.

A 2019 strike against General Motors that lasted 40 days resulted in a one-state recession affecting Michigan, Stevens recalled. 

A study from Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing estimated that a 10-day strike could result in a $5.6 billion hit to the U.S. economy. 

Lt. Garlin Gilchrist told Bridge that he's hopeful for progress in negotiations before contracts expire. 

“The deadline hasn’t come,” Gilchrist said from the auto show after speaking on a panel about state recreation. “So there’s an opportunity for a deal.”

So far, negotiations have not moved the union closer to its goals of 40 percent pay increase over the next four-year deal, restored pensions, the end of a two-tier wage system and job security from plant closures, Fain said Wednesday.

During his presentation, Fain said Stellantis, a Dutch company with its American headquarters in Auburn Hills, wants the right to close and sell 18 facilities. None were named. The automaker operates four assembly plants in southeast Michigan and five component factories.

Automakers released updates on negotiations over the past two weeks. GM said it offered wage increases. Ford said on Aug 31 that it would eliminate the two-tier system, which Fain disputed on Wednesday.  Stellantis told WDIV-TV on Wednesday that it has submitted a third proposal, , and it awaits a response from the UAW.

Ford issued a statement from CEO Jim Farley on Wednesday, saying the company “continues to put 100 percent of our energy into reaching an agreement with the UAW.”

Ford has made four proposals, Farley said, without a “genuine counteroffer.”

Before rolling out the UAW’s strike plan on Facebook, Fain showed his grandmother’s Bible. He criticized “billionaire” automakers, and called on members to shed their fears to take an act of faith with the UAW. 

“We have a mission and a calling,” Fain said. “We fight not just for the good of our union and our members and our families. We fight for the entire working class and the poor.”

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