Union Workers Back Contract Deals at 3 Big Automakers
The United Automobile Workers union hopes the agreements with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis will help it make inroads at other companies.
Members of the United Automobile Workers union have given their backing to new contracts with the three big U.S. automakers, agreements that deliver hefty wage increases and other gains that had eluded the union for more than 20 years.
In the most closely contested vote, the tentative contract agreement at General Motors won the support of 55 percent of the nearly 36,000 members casting ballots, according to a tally from all the G.M. locals that the union posted on Thursday.
A spokesman for the union confirmed the accuracy of the tallies but declined to comment further.
The agreements are similar across the three automakers and raise the top wage for production workers 25 percent, to more than $40 over four and a half years, from $32. They were reached last month after a six-week wave of strikes that hobbled the companies — a strategy spearheaded by the union’s new president, Shawn Fain, who had vowed to take a more adversarial approach to negotiations than his predecessors.
The agreements appear to have quickly reverberated across the auto industry, with Toyota, Hyundai and Honda announcing significant wage increase at nonunion plants in the United States only days later.
“We call that the U.A.W. bump, and that stands for ‘U Are Welcome,’” Mr. Fain said in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this week. “And we’re very proud of that. And when these workers decide to organize and join the U.A.W., they’re going to realize the full benefit of union membership and get what they’re fully due.”
The new contracts also included larger company contributions to workers’ retirement plans and the right to strike over plant closures. All three automakers declined to comment on the ratification votes.
Mr. Fain said the union was seeking to capitalize on its momentum by waging muscular organizing campaigns at nonunion plants, and, in remarks submitted to the Senate committee, he added that thousands of workers were already contacting the union and signing union cards.
But even Mr. Fain’s tough approach in the talks with the Big Three did not yield terms attractive enough to many union members. G.M. workers at several large plants voted against the tentative agreement by large margins.
In contrast, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently approved a new contract at United Parcel Service with 86 percent support, while a new contract between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios passed with 99 percent support.
Rebecca Givan, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University, said Mr. Fain had achieved a major victory despite having taken office only a few months earlier with a goal of reorienting the union.
Dr. Givan said the union’s approach of initially striking at one plant at each of the three automakers and ramping up over time had “really upended a lot of conventional wisdom” in the labor movement and had proved unusually successful at reversing some concessions that the union had accepted years earlier, like the suspension of a cost-of-living adjustment.
“This shows that if workers build enough power, they can win things back,” she said.
U.A.W. members at Mack Truck also ratified a contract on Wednesday, after rejecting an initial agreement with the company.
Across the three automakers, skepticism toward the agreements arose in large part from veteran workers who felt that the proposed contracts did not go far enough to compensate them for years of concessions and weak wage growth, even given strong gains for newer workers. Wages for some newer workers will more than double over the next four years.
Huey Harris, a G.M. employee at a large truck assembly plant in Flint, Mich., who has worked at the company for over 20 years, said the deal should have gone further in rewarding veteran workers, though he ultimately voted for it. “The traditional people didn’t think they were offered enough in the contract,” he said.
Several longtime employees of the Big Three automakers said that even after the large gains of the new contract, they would not be making more than when they started their careers.