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UAW gives Friday deadline for progress in talks and dismisses Trump plans to speak with auto workers

In a video statement late Monday, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain said more factories may be picketed if there is no significant progress in talks by the end of the week

Striking United Auto Workers members picket outside the Stellantis Jeep Plant in Toledo, Ohio, on September 17, 2023.
Striking United Auto Workers members picket outside the Stellantis Jeep Plant in Toledo, Ohio, on September 17, 2023.REBECCA COOK (REUTERS)

The leader of the United Auto Workers said that a limited strike targeting plants in Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio may be expanded if “serious progress” toward a new contract agreement isn’t made by Friday at noon. The UAW for the first time in its history is striking at all three Detroit automakers, but the 13,000 workers on the picket lines for a fifth day Tuesday are hitting only three facilities, one each at GM, Ford and Stellantis, in a novel strategy.

The union can stretch the funds it maintains for striking autoworkers if it limits picketing, but the targeted strikes can still ripple through integrated production systems of automakers. In fact, the strikes are already having an economic impact beyond the three big automakers, and it’s also seeping into the upcoming U.S. presidential election campaign.

U.S. Steel is temporarily idling a blast furnace at its Granite City Works plant in Illinois due to the strike, and the company said late Monday that the strike will impact its financial operations in the current quarter. The company added Tuesday that it expects phased and temporary layoffs at the plant, which employs 1,450 people, but doesn’t believe “many will be impacted.”

Stellantis resumed negotiations with the UAW this week and on Tuesday the company’s North American Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart said common ground is still being sought out. “I hope that we’re able to do that by Friday,” Stewart said on CNBC.

Meanwhile, General Motors and the United Auto Workers continue to negotiate.

In a video statement late Monday, UAW President Shawn Fain said more factories may be picketed if there is no significant progress in talks by the end of the week. “We’re not messing around,” he said.

The union’s strategy hinges on its ability to escalate the strike quickly, and the carmakers are warning of potential layoffs as the limited strike reduces the amount of material needed at plants that remain open.

GM said Monday that 2,000 UAW-represented workers at an assembly plant in Kansas City are “expected to be idled as soon as early this week” because of a shortage of supplies from a GM plant near St. Louis, where workers walked off the job Friday.

Workers at the Kansas City plant build the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4.

The strike could begin to affect suppliers and their employees. CIE Newcor told Michigan officials that it expects a one-month closure of four plants in the state to start Oct. 2 and idle nearly 300 workers.

The Biden administration stepped up its response in response to the potential economic impact, as well as the political ramifications. President Joe Biden is sending two top administration officials to Detroit to meet with both sides. Biden has backed the UAW in brief public comments, saying that the automakers have not fairly shared their record profits with workers.

An administration official said this week that acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior aide Gene Sperling will not serve as mediators — they won’t be at the bargaining table — but are going to Detroit “to help support the negotiations in any way the parties feel is constructive.” The official was not authorized to discuss private discussions and spoke anonymously.

Fain said the Biden administration won’t broker a deal “This is our battle. Our members are out there manning the picket lines,” he said Monday on MSNBC. “This battle is not about the president, it’s not about the former president” — a reference to reports that former President Donald Trump plans to skip a debate for Republican presidential candidates next week to meet with striking autoworkers in Detroit.

Fain came back to that possibility early Tuesday, dismissing Trump’s planned visit. “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” Fain said in a prepared statement. “We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.”

Strikes by Hollywood writers and actors, by workers at about 150 Starbucks locations and walkouts that were narrowly averted at United Parcel Service and West Coast ports — has been driven by a strong labor market and high demand for workers as well as living costs that have risen rapidly.

Unifor, the union that represents Canadian autoworkers, extended talks with Ford Motor Co. by 24 hours early Tuesday after receiving a “substantive offer” on a new labor contract just as the current agreement expired.

Ford workers on a picket line outside a plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne this week were joined by members of other unions and the occasional politician.

Tevita Uhatafe, an aircraft-maintenance worker from Arlington, Texas, showed his support and saw what it might look like if UAW members strike against a GM truck plant in his hometown.

“This is a fight that is most likely going to happen in our backyard,” Uhatafe said.

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