Targeted work stoppages allow the union to slowly use its $825 million strike fund.
Ford, GM, and Stellantis have expressed displeasure with the strategy.
The United Auto Workers union is changing the way bargaining works in Detroit.
The union's historic strike at all three of the Detroit car companies implements a new strategy, in which Ford, GM, and Stellantis are forced to compete against each other at the bargaining table.
At the same time, the UAW is slowly rolling out targeted work stoppages in a surprise-attack approach that allows the union to use strikes as leverage — while only slowly dipping into its $825 million strike fund it uses to pay workers in lieu of their regular paycheck.
Workers at three assembly plants have been on strike for a week, and the latest escalation came Friday when UAW President Shawn Fain said 38 GM and Stellantis plants in 20 states would be joining the walkout. Fain is targeting GM and Stellantis specifically because he's unhappy with their offers in comparison to progress made at Ford since the strike began.
"To be clear, we're not done at Ford," Fain said Friday. "But we do want to recognize that Ford is showing that they're serious about reaching a deal. At GM and Stellantis, it's a different story."
The UAW's decision to target GM and Stellantis with parts depot walkouts that will cripple production while sparing Ford is the union's first move in using its unique strike strategy to pit the Detroit 3 against each other. Leaked messages from the union's communications director, first reported by The Detroit News, more clearly illustrate this plan.
"We're breaking pattern and they're bargaining against each other for the first time in 70 years," UAW communications director Jonah Furman wrote in a private group on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter. The messages were reviewed and confirmed by Insider. "We can calibrate it exactly to their moves at the table. If Ford and GM won't move but Stellantis will, we can spare them."
After Furman's messages leaked Thursday night, the Detroit car companies expressed their displeasure with the union's strategy. Ford and Stellantis called the messages "disappointing" and "disturbing," while GM said the message "calls into question who is actually in charge of UAW strategy."
The union didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, but told The Detroit News the messages were "private."
Why the UAW is breaking pattern
For most of the UAW's 88-year history, the union has engaged in pattern bargaining with the three Detroit companies to avoid competition at the table. In the past, the UAW has chosen a "lead company" to complete negotiations with and then taken the first completed contract to the other two companies as a guide for completing a deal.
This more aggressive strategy comes as the UAW is fighting to reignite its relevance in a revived labor movement after years of declining membership and a yearslong criminal probe that eroded trust with union leaders.
Fain and workers Insider spoke with on the picket line have said the UAW's fight is bigger than the Detroit three. The UAW president is decidedly taking on a larger fight between the working class and their wealthy employers, previously saying in a now-viral clip that, in his opinion, billionaires "don't have a right to exist."
The hope of Fain and his members is to reset the standard for work in automotive manufacturing.
Targeted strikes allow for longevity
Fain had been hinting at the historic strategy to strike all three companies at once since the start of bargaining this summer. The idea was met with skepticism by many, who said that an all-out strike would quickly drain the UAW's strike resources.
Enter the UAW's targeted strategy. The first week of the strike at three assembly factories in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri cost the union an estimated $6.5 million, according to Deutsche Bank. That leaves plenty in the union's $825 million strike fund as the work stoppage expands Friday.
This kind of longevity in the strike is important for the UAW, as their opponents on the other side of the table have every reason to dig their heels in.
Ford, GM, and Stellantis – whose labor costs are already higher than most of the industry – are each spending billions of dollars to electrify their lineups and must weigh costly R&D expenses in the future with these increased labor costs.
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