UAW Reaches Tentative Deal With GM to End Strike With Big Three

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain raises his fist at a rally in Detroit, on Sept. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

(The Washington Post) — The United Auto Workers has reached a tentative contract deal with the last of the Big Three automakers, General Motors, bringing the industry close to ending a historic, six-week strike that has rattled the economy and brought record gains for workers.

The GM contract would need to be approved by UAW workers and comes just days after similar tentative deals with Ford and Jeep-maker Stellantis. The agreements would conclude the auto union’s first simultaneous strike against all three automakers.

The agreements mark the biggest compensation win the union has achieved in decades, including raises of 25 percent in base wages over 4½ years. The GM deal was confirmed by people familiar with the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agreement is not yet public.

Asked about the GM deal as he boarded Air Force One on Monday morning, President Biden gave a thumbs-up. “I think it’s great,” he said. The Biden administration has spent weeks pushing to resolve the work stoppage, worried about the stability of an industry that contributes 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Biden became the first president to join the picket line last month to support workers, and the resolution of the strikes could help Biden in his bid to be the “most pro-union president in history.”

The tentative contracts come after a long period of UAW wages not keeping up with inflation, and after the union gave up many of its big perks around the time of the Great Recession, when the automakers were struggling to survive. The union managed to claw back many of those perks in the new deals, including restoring regular cost-of-living wage adjustments to offset inflation. It also eliminated wage tiers that had left newer workers on a lower pay scale.

Striking workers at all three companies will return to their jobs while the union organizes ratification votes, a process that could take a week or more. If workers reject the deals, they will return to the picket lines.

The GM deal comes after the union unexpectedly ratcheted up its strike against the automaker Saturday evening, walking out of a GM factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., during an apparent impasse in talks. The UAW had been slowly widening its work stoppage since beginning it Sept. 15.

The deals are a coup for the union’s relatively new president, Shawn Fain, who barnstormed the negotiations with grand demands and a more combative style than the UAW has shown in decades.

Speaking Sunday night, before news of the GM deal surfaced, Fain threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the auto industry, saying the UAW aims to unionize U.S. auto factories beyond the Big Three.

“One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before,” Fain said during a social media address. “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three but with the Big Five or Big Six.”

In the new contracts, the union did not manage to restore defined-benefit pensions for all workers, but it did force the automakers to increase their contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts. Ford will now contribute 10 percent of a worker’s wages, the UAW said Sunday.

The automakers have said little about the deals, leaving it up to the union to inform its members about the details and organize ratification votes.

The strike quickly hit the automakers with billions of dollars in costs through lost sales and other disruptions. GM said last week that it was losing $200 million a week. Ford said the strike had cost it $1.3 billion.

The talks have been acrimonious. During frequent social media addresses to his members, Fain tossed the automakers’ early proposals in a trash can to signal his disgust. He railed against corporate greed and appeared in one webcast wearing an “Eat the Rich” T-shirt.

The automakers at times accused Fain of grandstanding for the cameras instead of engaging in real negotiations. They entered the talks acknowledging that inflation meant they needed to give workers significant raises, but they balked at the union’s big demands, saying they would leave the companies unable to compete with nonunionized rivals.

Fain, elected to the UAW presidency early this year, has frequently criticized the union’s leadership of recent decades, accusing it of being too complacent and cozy with industry. He has often praised the era of legendary UAW president Walter Reuther, who led the union with a more combative style from 1946 until 1970.

And he named the union’s walkout the “Stand-Up Strike” in honor of the UAW’s Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37, when workers occupied General Motors factories in Flint, Mich., to push for better wages.

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