The United Automobile Workers (UAW) union said on Friday that it is expanding its strike against two of the so-called “Big Three” automakers in the United States, an escalation that could hurt the economy and send costs of cars higher, with the union’s president calling on President Joe Biden to join the picket lines.
Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, said in a Facebook Live address to members that negotiations with Ford, the other company that workers are on strike against, have progressed and will be spared the expansion.
About 5,600 UAW members in 38 locations across 20 states at General Motors (GM) and Stellantis will join the 13,000 colleagues who walked out of their jobs last Friday—the first time in history that they are striking against all three companies simultaneously. They downed their tools over demands that include wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for salaries to match with inflation and profit-sharing plans.
Fain also called on President Joe Biden to join the union on the picket line to support the strike. “We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line. From our friends and family, all the way up to the president of the United States. We invite you to join us in our fight,” he said in his address Friday.
Fain added that Ford agreed to reinstate cost-of-living allowances suspended in 2019 and remove wage tiers between workers. The union also won the right to strike over plant closures. In the event of indefinite layoffs, there will be some cushioning of pay for up to 2 years with health care benefits for employees that have worked with the company for 90 days. They two parties also made progress on profit-sharing.
“We’ve made some real progress at Ford. We are not there yet,” Fain said.
Ford said in a statement on its website on Friday that the parties had come together on some issues, but there was still more work to be done to find a resolution.
“Ford is working diligently with the UAW to reach a deal that rewards our workforce and enables Ford to invest in a vibrant and growing future,” the company said. “Although we are making progress in some areas, we still have significant gaps to close on the key economic issues. In the end, the issues are interconnected and must work within an overall agreement that supports our mutual success.”
Meanwhile, there was little improvement in the negotiations with GM and Stellantis, Fain said, on issues such as the cost-of-living allowances and profit-sharing agreements.
“We are not going to wait around forever for a fair contract at the Big Three, the companies know how to make this right,” he said.
Fain added that the expanding strike starting at 12 p.m. ET on Friday at GM and Stellantis will be nationwide.
“We will shutdown parts of distribution until those companies come to their senses and come to the table with a serious offer,” he said. “This expansion will take our fight nationwide. We will be everywhere from California to Massachusetts to Oregon to Florida. And we will keep going, keep organizing and keep expanding the stand up strike as necessary.”
Newsweek reached out for comment to both GM and Stellantis via email.
The strike presents a conundrum for Biden who has positioned himself as a friend of unions, but also has invested considerable amount of political and economic capital in the automotive industry’s transition to an electric future. The companies have said that they cannot meet the demands of the UAW as they need to keep costs down as they transition to a green automotive future.
The strike could also have a ripple effect on the economy. Some analysis suggested that the economy would lose an estimated $415 million and thousands of jobs, according to research firm The Perryman Group. A long lasting strike may also shoot up car prices, analysts have said.
Biden has tried to straddle a fine line of expressing support for workers while also not alienating the companies crucial to his agenda for the future of electric cars.
The president said last Friday that the transition to a clean energy future in the industry should be a win-win for both workers and the union, and that the companies should share their “record profits” with their employees.
“The companies have made some significant offers,” Biden said. “But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”