GM agrees all electric vehicles should be totally union-built
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain speaks at a rally in Detroit, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. | Paul Sancya/AP

DETROIT—The United Auto Workers found a key pressure point in their “Stand Up” strike against General Motors, one of Detroit’s Big 3, and pushed. The result was a win at that car company on top issue for the union: UAW and only UAW members will make GM electric vehicles.

And they’ll do so under the union’s master contract with the automaker, when that is finalized, not under pacts covering subsidiary “parts” plants, which pay much less.

Union President Shawn Fain’s October 9 announcement came just as the union’s national bargaining team was ready to send the 5,000 members of Local 276 at the GM plant in Arlington, Texas, out to join 41 other locals, now on strike, part of the union’s strategy of keeping the Detroit-based car makers off balance, wondering who would go out next.

That GM plant is a particular key because its SUVs—the Chevy Tahoe, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, and the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade-V—make Arlington the company’s biggest money-maker, Fain explained.

Fain’s announcement was scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern time. Instead, it was delayed more than half an hour until he came out for the live video to his members, with a smile on his face, and announced the deal.

Members will keep working

And members of the local, many of whom wanted to be among the first wave of locals to strike, starting at midnight September 14-15, will keep working.

Fain said that by guaranteeing UAW members under the master contract would make EVs, GM “leapfrogged” Ford and Stellantis, formerly FiatChrysler.

“We’re not going to let the company sit back and lowball us,” Fain explained. “They took us for granted, but today they did something unthinkable—they put the future of the [auto] industry under our national agreement.”

“It was the threat” of a strike at Arlington “that brought them to the table,” he said, explaining the half-hour delay in the telecast. “But if the Big 3 don’t continue to make progress, we’ll put down the hammer,” he warned.

The EV agreement is important. The car companies, and the UAW, have signed on to the Biden administration’s plans to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming by converting U.S. auto production from gasoline-powered cars and diesel-fueled trucks to electric-powered vehicles. Vehicle emissions are a major cause of greenhouse gases.

But despite a Biden vow that all U.S.-made EVs would be union-made, the first two federal subsidy contracts for battery construction plants, worth $9.2 billion, went to joint ventures with outside suppliers, with the battery plants to be built in anti-union Kentucky and Tennessee, not in pro-union Michigan. That irked the UAW.

After the EV announcement, Fain spent the rest of the telecast summarizing other gains the UAW has made in talks with the car companies since the Stand Up strikes began.

But he also warned there are still a lot of issues on the bargaining table in talks between the union’s entire team and the car companies. They include the two-tier pay system and long-overdue raises in retiree pensions.

He pointed out the first wage offer from Ford was 9% over the life of the contract there, but now it’s 23% “and GM and Stellantis believe they can catch up.” Ford and Stellantis have reinstated the annual cost-of-living adjustment “and GM isn’t far behind.”

The federal government forced the UAW to dump the COLAs 15 years ago as part of a loan guarantee rescue plan after the financier-caused Great Recession drove GM and FiatChrysler into bankruptcy.

And part-time and temp workers will get raises and a faster progression—not the current eight years—to full-time work. “We’ve cut it to three years at Ford and four years at GM and Stellantis,” he said. That means all current part-timers who stay on will be full-time by the end of the pacts now being bargained with the auto firms.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.