Michigan autoworkers move closer to ending labor dispute

United Auto Workers members hold picket signs near a General Motors assembly plant in Delta Township on Sept. 29. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

By Associated Press

November 17, 2023

DETROIT— Members of the United Auto Workers union moved closer to approving a contract agreement with Stellantis on Friday as two large factories in Detroit voted overwhelmingly in favor of the deal.

A vote-tracking spreadsheet posted on the union’s website showed that 68.4% were in favor of ratification, and the contract was leading by more than 9,600 votes with only three small facilities yet to cast ballots.

Voting at Jeep and Ram vehicle maker Stellantis doesn’t officially end until Tuesday. Workers at crosstown rival Ford, where 66.8% were in favor of the deal with only one large factory uncounted, are to finish early Saturday.

If the deals are approved, workers at Ford and Stellatis would join counterparts at General Motors in ratifying the record contracts, ending a contentious labor dispute that brought a punishing series of strikes over six weeks. GM workers narrowly approved their four year and eight month contract on Thursday.

At Stellantis, workers at the large Jefferson North factory that makes Jeep Grand Cherokees voted 70.7% in favor of the agreement. Nearby, workers at the Detroit Mack Assembly Complex who make the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs voted 78.3% in favor.

Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said he expects the contracts to be ratified at Ford and Stellantis. “It certainly seems that they’re on track to pass,” he said.

The three contracts, if approved by 146,000 union members, would dramatically raise pay for top-scale assembly plant autoworkers, with increases and cost-of-living adjustments that would translate into a 33% wage gain. Top assembly plant workers would get immediate 11% raises and earn roughly $42 per hour when the contracts expire in April of 2028.

The contract at GM was approved by a much narrower margin than voting at Ford and Stellantis. The deal passed by only 3,400 votes, or 54.7% in favor.

Many GM workers said they voted against the pact because they didn’t think pay raises were large enough for longtime workers to make up for concessions made to help the company out of dire financial straits in 2008. Temporary workers and those moving to the top assembly plant wage got much larger increases. More than half of GM’s 46,000 union workers get the top assembly plant wage.

Citing the automakers’ strong profits, UAW President Shawn Fain has insisted it was well past time to make up for the 2008 concessions.

Longtime assembly plant workers also wanted to see larger pension increases as well as defined benefit pensions and health care in retirement for workers hired after 2007. With GM making healthy profits, many said the union may have missed the chance to get more because the company may not be doing as well in the next round of talks in 2028.

Many newer hires wanted defined benefit pension plans instead of defined contribution plans. But the companies agreed to contribute 10% per year into 401(k) plans instead.
President Joe Biden has hailed the resolution of the strikes as an early victory for what he calls a worker-centered economy. But the success of the contracts will ultimately hinge on the ability of automakers to keep generating profits as they shift toward electric vehicles.

Thousands of UAW members joined picket lines in targeted strikes starting Sept. 15 before the tentative deals were reached late last month. Rather than striking at one company, the union targeted individual plants at all three automakers. At the peak of the strikes, about 46,000 workers were walking picket lines.

READ MORE: Biden vows to keep fighting for workers during stop at union auto plant

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