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UAW Strike Update—Ford, GM Lay Off Workers

Sept. 18, 2023
On Saturday, Stellantis announced it would revisit plans for its shuttered Belvidere Assembly Plant during negotiations.

It’s been four days since the United Auto Workers declared a triplicate strike on the Big 3 of U.S. auto manufacturers. In a Monday interview with NPR, UAW President Shawn Fain said of General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis that minimal bargaining took place over the weekend and “the ball is in their court.”

At press time, only about 13,000 UAW employees are on strike of the roughly 150,000 currently under expired contracts. Hanging over the negotiations with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis alike is the UAW’s novel “Stand Up Strike” strategy. The UAW is striking at three plants, one for each company, and each in different states—Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Stellantis' Toledo Assembly Plant in Ohio and GM's Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri. Key to the strategy is the UAW’s “Stand Up Strike,” which the union says lets them decide which plants will join the strike in order to maximize leverage.

On Friday, Ford announced it would indefinitely lay off about 600 Wayne, Michigan, employees due to the work stoppage, and General Motors said it would lay off 2,000 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Here's a rundown of what happened during the first weekend of the strike:

Stellantis

In a statement Saturday, Stellantis revealed what it said was its last best offer before the strike went into effect Friday. The company said its latest offer to the union, on Sept. 16, included a 21% wage increase, ending wage tiers over the term of the contract in its parts division, and more than $1 billion in pension and retirement savings plans.

In public comments, Mark Stewart, Stellantis’ chief operating officer for North America, said the company’s September 14 offer before the UAW contract expired had  included future plans for its Belvidere (Illinois) Assembly Plant, shuttered in February. Speaking to reporters, Stewart said the plans involved “job protection” but that the specific offer had lapsed with the UAW’s contract. He offered to revisit the issue in future negotiations.

“It was a very, very good proposal for how to resolve Belvidere,” Stewart said. “It was only on the table until contract expiration, so we are glad to continue to work on a solution … but we need to all come together and be able to find a reasonable solution that both the company and the union can agree to.”

In a statement responding to Stewart’s, Fain said Stewart’s remarks indicated Stellantis sees the closed plant as “a bargaining chip.”

“Belvidere Assembly was a profitable plant that just a few years ago supported around 5,000 workers and their families,” Fain said. “Their attitude is: ‘Stellantis giveth, and Stellantis taketh away.’”

Another point of contention between Stellantis and the union are 18 assembly and parts plants of uncertain fate. The union says Stellantis wants to close or sell the factories. In Saturday’s statement, Stellantis said the UAW's comments were “misleading without context,” and that the company is trying to “modernize our operations and enable us to run our parts distribution centers more efficiently, while preserving those jobs.”

According to Reuters, Stellantis and the UAW resumed negotiations on Monday.

Ford

The UAW is currently striking at the Wayne, Michigan assembly plant, but only in the final assembly and paint departments. According to the Detroit Free Press, citing a communications director for Ford, the 600 workers laid off in Wayne, Michigan, worked in the plant’s body construction and sub-assembly area. 

According to Jessica Enoch, the communications director for Ford, the layoffs were necessary because the components built in the laid-off areas have to be painted for protection.

“In this case, the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments has directly impacted the operations in other parts of the facility,” Enoch said in a statement.

General Motors

Meanwhile, the effects of the UAW strike on General Motors’ Wentzville factory is disrupting operations in a different facility. The Wentzville plant manufactures the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon and employs about 4,100 workers, 3,700 of them UAW members. It also does stamping work for GM’s Fairfax Assembly plant on the other side of the state, which is where GM says it has already laid off 2,000 employees. In a statement, GM said the Fairfax factory could suspend production as early as sometime this week.

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