United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain greets employees on the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, to mark the start of contract negotiations in Sterling Heights, Michigan, U.S. July 12, 2023.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
DETROIT – The United Auto Workers union is making ready to conduct unprecedented, focused strikes towards Ford, General Motors and Stellantis if the edges fail to succeed in new offers by 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday.
Targeted, or bottleneck, strikes are a substitute for nationwide actions by which the union solely strikes choose crops. They’re completely different from when members stroll out of all factories and onto picket strains, like what occurred 4 years in the past over the past spherical of UAW negotiations with General Motors.
Targeted strikes usually concentrate on key crops that may then trigger different crops to stop manufacturing because of an absence of components. They usually are not unprecedented, however the way in which UAW President Shawn Fain plans to conduct the work stoppages just isn’t typical. They embody initiating focused strikes at choose crops after which probably rising the variety of strikes based mostly on the standing of the negotiations.
“We will strike all three companies, a historic first, initially at a limited number of targeted locations that we will be announcing. Then, based on what’s happening, in bargaining we’re going to announce more locals that are going to be called to stand up and strike,” Fain mentioned Wednesday throughout a Facebook Live.
Fain referred to the union’s plans as a “stand-up strike,” a nod to historic “sit-down” strikes by the UAW within the Thirties.
While “historic,” the focused strikes may have unintended ripple results. It’s not clear how one plant will influence others. The actions may additionally probably ship nonstriking union members to unemployment strains, if their state permits them to gather any advantages because of being out of labor because of a strike.
What about lockouts?
The stoppages additionally extra simply open the door for the businesses to rent everlasting alternative employees and even conduct plant lockouts, in response to labor specialists.
The UAW’s technique places “some heat on the companies,” but it surely additionally offers the businesses “much more ability” to make use of such techniques, mentioned Dennis Devaney, senior counsel at Clark Hill who previously served as a NLRB board member.
Read extra in regards to the Detroit labor showdown
“I think that obviously is not a good thing from the UAW’s perspective,” mentioned Devaney, who additionally previously served as an lawyer for GM and Ford.
Plant lockouts, by which firms do not enable employees right into a facility, are extra widespread abroad than within the U.S., however they’ve occurred.
For instance, there was roughly 10-month lockout of employees at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Texas that ended last year upon union ratification of a new agreement. The company said it was done in response to a strike notice issued by the union during negotiations in January 2021 for a new contract.
Automakers, however, may want to continue producing parts and vehicles at plants for as long as they can in the event of the strikes intensifying, especially falling years of supply chain disruptions due to parts shortages and the coronavirus pandemic.
There are “significant, important factors” that companies need to take into account to determine if such “actions might be legal and appropriate,” said Jeffrey S. Kopp, a corporate labor attorney with 26 years of experience and a partner at Foley & Lardner.
The UAW knows lockouts are an option, citing “everything’s on the table” for both sides if it comes to striking under the expired deals, said a person familiar with the union’s plans.
The UAW hasn’t conducted a strike like this before because under terms of the union’s national contracts with the Detroit automakers, strikes at individual plants must be over local contracts, not national issues. But Fain said the UAW will strike at local plants over national issues.
(For context, the UAW as an organization has an “international” unit that operates a leader, or umbrella, for local UAW units that all have their own contracts in addition to a national agreement.)
Typically, such actions would be breach of the contracts and could lead to litigation or a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, like in 1998 when GM filed a lawsuit against the UAW claiming a bottleneck strike at two Michigan plants that impacted dozens of other company facilities was illegal.
However, according to the union, this rule no longer matters because members are working under expired contracts that nullify those terms.
Ben Dictor, who serves as legal counsel for the UAW, said most of contracts such as wages and working conditions are still in effect, but the “no strike, no lockout clause” expires. That means the union can strike, but it also opens the door for the companies to potentially lockout workers.
“As part of the stand-up strike, some of us will be working without a contract. This is an essential part of our strategy to keep the companies off balance by calling locals out on strike based on what is happening in negotiations,” Dictor said in a video posted on-line Thursday by the union. “That will keep them guessing and turbocharge your national negotiators in bargaining with the big three.”
Conducting focused strikes could be advanced, as it is not clear how one plant will influence others. The actions may probably ship nonstriking union members to unemployment strains, if their state permits them to gather any advantages because of being out of labor because of a strike.
Targeted strikes additionally will save the union money, because it will not have to provide “strike pay” to as many members from its $825 million strike fund.
The fund pays every eligible member $500 per week, which might imply it has sufficient money for roughly 11 weeks if everybody went out on strike. However, that does not embody health-care prices that the union would cowl, equivalent to non permanent COBRA plans, which might possible drain the fund way more rapidly.
When requested in regards to the capability for the strike fund to help the union, Fain has frequently referred to how previous union leaders carried out work stoppages with out pay and the way UAW members want to stay collectively.
“Nobody’s coming to save us. Nobody can win this fight for us. Our greatest hope, and or only hope is with each other, standing together,” Fain mentioned. “I’ll tell you this, I’m at peace with a decision to strike if we have to because I know that we’re on the right side of this battle.”