The recent wave of strikes that affected the three largest U.S. automakers is leading to new contracts for workers. The third deal with General Motors is currently being finalized. These contracts will provide the largest pay raise for workers in decades, while also avoiding a prolonged work stoppage that could have had negative impacts on the economy.
The United Automobile Workers union recently reached separate but similar agreements with Ford Motor, General Motors, and Stellantis (maker of Ram, Jeep, and Chrysler). These deals will be expensive for the automakers as they transition to electric vehicles. They may also pave the way for increased demands for higher pay and potential labor disputes at nonunion automakers like Tesla and Toyota.
Assuming union members ratify the agreements, they will be seen as a win for President Biden, who showed support for striking workers at a General Motors facility in Michigan last month. The strike lasted longer than desired by White House officials, but it was resolved before causing major shortages of new cars and trucks that could have frustrated voters already concerned about inflation.
Although the strike’s near-term impact is expected to be minor, there may be long-term repercussions for Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. These automakers will likely have to increase car prices to remain profitable. Competitors are also likely to follow suit to take advantage of higher profit margins. Consequently, cars are expected to become more expensive in the future.
One potential far-reaching effect of the strike is its impact on manufacturing workers not represented by the United Automobile Workers. These negotiated contracts are part of a string of victories for organized labor, including those for Hollywood writers, UPS workers, and certain university employees.
The tentative agreements also serve as a signal for the United Automobile Workers union to begin organizing efforts at Tesla and other foreign-owned automakers with significant operations in the U.S. The union plans to “organize like we’ve never organized before,” according to U.A.W. president Shawn Fain. Companies without unions can expect the same hardball tactics used against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, including rhetorical attacks on executive pay and hourly wages that haven’t kept up with inflation.
Even if these union campaigns fail, they may prompt some employers to proactively increase workers’ wages. Ford reached a tentative agreement last Wednesday, followed by Stellantis on Saturday. General Motors reached a tentative agreement on Monday. These agreements include a 25% pay increase over the contract’s four-and-a-half-year duration, along with provisions to protect against inflation eroding the raises.
The proposed General Motors deal would raise the top U.A.W. wage from $32 an hour to over $40 over four and a half years, enabling employees working 40 hours a week to earn around $84,000 a year.
These agreements appear to be victories for President Biden, who has emphasized his commitment to supporting union workers. He joined a U.A.W. picket line, becoming the first sitting president to do so. His goal is for union workers to benefit from tax credits and incentives aimed at promoting the purchase of electric vehicles. However, these incentives are only available for vehicles manufactured in the United States, Canada, or Mexico.
The biggest risk for President Biden, the potential hindrance to automakers’ competitiveness, is unlikely to materialize before the next election.
The contracts between the United Automobile Workers and the three automakers expired on September 15. Since then, more than 45,000 workers went on strike at factories and warehouses across the country. The most recent escalation occurred on Saturday when the U.A.W. instructed workers at General Motors’ Spring Hill plant in Tennessee, which produces several SUV models, to strike.
The strike has disrupted the production of some of the companies’ most profitable vehicles, including the Cadillac Escalade SUV, the Ram 1500 pickup truck, and the Ford Bronco SUV.
General Motors estimated that the strike has already cost them approximately $800 million in earnings, with the impact expected to continue into the fourth quarter.
These negotiations began in July, with General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis aiming to limit labor cost increases due to already having higher labor costs compared to nonunion automakers like Tesla, Toyota, and Honda operating in the United States.
According to a Ford executive, the new contract could raise production costs by up to $900 per vehicle. More details will be provided once the contract is ratified by Ford workers.
The three major U.S. automakers are investing significant amounts in developing electric vehicles, building battery plants, and retooling factories to catch up to Tesla. In addition to lower labor costs, Tesla has other advantages over Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, such as the ability to sell cars directly to customers without involving dealers who take a share of the profit from each sale.
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.