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UAW President Shawn Fain made a final push to members on Wednesday night, a day before the UAW labor contracts expire with the Detroit Three automakers, quoting Bible passages and vowing to deliver justice to working class members who have waited "too long" to get what they have earned.
He warned Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis that local unions around the country are trained and on standby to implement a unique rolling shutdown at various auto factories and automotive operations centers with little notice, much like a military operation.
Not only did Fain outline the latest contract offers from the automakers, he also discussed in detail his plan for a massive unprecedented strike that he said is not certain but likely.
"When we say our union is back in the fight, we mean it," he said on Facebook Live, streamed on the UAW Facebook page to about 30,000 viewers.
He dismissed the idea that the "sky will fall" if hourly autoworkers get better wages or that the economy will be damaged. At issue is executives "rolling in the money" who don't want to share the bounty. Consumers should focus on how automakers are paying shareholders while leaving autoworkers behind, and the way car prices are marked up on consumers.
"The UAW doesn't back down from a fight," he said. "In bargaining, we've repeatedly told the companies from Day 1, 'Sept 14 is a deadline, not a reference point.' ... They nickel and dime our members every day ... The Big Three can afford to give us our fair share. If they choose not to, they're choosing to strike themselves. We are not afraid to take action."
The companies chose to squander time during this negotiation process, Fain said. He again accused General Motors and Stellantis of delaying their responses to the UAW's proposal.
UAW: Weak counterproposals
Fain outlined where automakers' contract proposals stood Wednesday night from a UAW perspective:
Wages: Ford offered a 20% raise over four and a half years, GM 18% and Stellantis 17.5%.
Temporary workers: Ford offered conversion of all current temps with 90 days continuous service to full-time in progression; GM and Stellantis proposed "inadequate benefits, no profit sharing, meager wage increases."
Tiers: All three automakers offered a four-year progression to top wage for new workers, rejected pension and retiree health care proposals.
Cost-of-living adjustment (COLA): All labeled "deficient" by the UAW with limited detail.
Profit sharing: Ford and GM offered proposals that leave "more for the company executives and rich shareholders" and would reduce current formulas. Stellantis offered a formula with unknown calculation.
Job security: All three automakers rejected UAW proposals while Stellantis proposed the "unilateral right to close and sell 18 facilities including various assembly and powertrain plants and parts depots."
Work-life balance: All three offered to make Juneteenth a holiday and Ford added two weeks of parental leave.
Fain highlighted gains on shortening the time it takes workers to progress to the highest wage, which the automakers offered to slash by half since negotiations began.
"We're making progress. But we're still very far apart," he said. "To win, we're likely going to have to take action. We are preparing to strike these companies in a way they've never seen before."
Fain urged, "Stick with your union leadership for direction and clarity throughout this process."
The labor contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
"Tomorrow night, I want you to be ready to stand up," Fain said to the viewing audience. "Let's stand up and make history together."
A role for faith in strike prep
He urged members to have faith as he read passages from the Bible. He put forth the details of a strike plan and said the companies are improving their counteroffers but there's more work to be done.
He will issue orders at 10 p.m. Thursday on Facebook live, he said, telling union leaders which locals will go out on strike if there's no deal, with the option of the union growing the strike as needed, as the Free Press first reported Tuesday.
"This is going to create confusion for the companies and turbocharge the power of our negotiators," Fain said.
"We will be prepared to strike the Big Three. It is time, long past time, to stand up for the working class," he said. "We will not be bargaining on the 15th."
'Nobody's coming to save us'
Instead of negotiating, labor leaders will be joining picket lines and protests on Friday ordered in waves at different plants and operations throughout the country, he said.
"Nobody's coming to save us," Fain said. "We've got to have faith in each other."
With faith, nothing is impossible, he said. And he urged members to set aside fear. He talked about his grandmother being "dropped off" at an orphanage at Christmas in 1933 because her parents were too poor to support her during the Great Depression. He now carries the inscribed Bible she was given, he said.
His leadership is guided by faith and prayer and collaboration with other union leaders, Fain said. "Enough is enough. It's time to decide what kind of world we want to live in. It's time to decide what we're willing to do to get it."
During his Facebook live talk, thousands of union members posted their questions and concerns in the comment section about the strategy of targeted strikes rather than a total walkout, and Fain responded that the strategy may change but the initial approach is precise by design.
"We can make these mountains move," he said.
GM responds: Strong offers
GM issued a statement after the Facebook presentation, saying, “We continue to bargain directly and in good faith with the UAW and have presented additional strong offers. We are making progress in key areas that we believe are most important to our represented team members. This includes historic guaranteed annual wage increases, investments in our U.S. manufacturing plants to provide opportunities for all, and shortening the time for in-progression employees to reach maximum wages.”
Fain called out Ford CEO Jim Farley, specifically, for saying publicly the Dearborn automaker was making an historic offer overall that included getting rid of wage tiers and claimed it was untrue.
Farley responded in a statement Wednesday night, shortly before a Mustang event at the Detroit auto show, that the automaker had, in fact, “fully eliminated wages tiers to all employees.” He re-released a list of the automaker's detailed offer.
Ford challenges UAW: Avert a disastrous outcome
In addition, Farley said, “If there is a strike, it’s not because Ford didn’t make a great offer. We have and that’s what we can control. In fact, we have put four offers on the table starting Aug. 29 and each one has been increasingly generous. We still have not received any genuine counteroffer. On Tuesday, (company Chair) Bill Ford and I sat down with the union at the main table for a major offer. As we were walking in the room, we learned President Fain would not be attending. Nevertheless, Bill and I laid out a historically generous offer to the UAW Ford bargaining team because we listened to the UAW demands and we care about our employees. “
The first Ford learned that Fain received the offer was on Facebook Live, Farley said.
“We are here and ready to reach a deal. We should be working creatively to solve hard problems rather than planning strikes and PR events. Please remember that Ford, more than any other company, has bet on the UAW and treated the UAW with respect. We have been incredibly supportive of the union. We have gone well beyond any contract language in adding jobs and investment,” Farley said. “The future of our industry is at stake. Let’s do everything we can to avert a disastrous outcome.
Stellantis, which owns Jeep, Ram, Dodge, Chrysler and Fiat vehicles, issued a statement Wednesday after Fain's remarks that said, "We’re still awaiting the UAW’s response to the offer we presented yesterday. Our focus remains on bargaining in good faith to have a tentative agreement on the table before the collective bargaining agreement expires."
Solidarity rally scheduled for Friday
Fain urged UAW members and UAW supporters to meet at 4 p.m. at the Ford-UAW National Programs Center, 151 W. Jefferson Ave., for a 5 p.m. rally in Detroit. Fain said locals are sending members from outside the city by bus and a crowd is expected.
This event dovetails with the Detroit auto show's annual charity ball, which runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Huntington Place convention center, with all proceeds benefiting children's programs. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, told the Free Press she plans to attend both events. She said the UAW will not protest or picket the charity event.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: UAW President Fain warns Detroit Three on eve of contract expiration