More than 5,000 auto workers at General Motors’ Arlington assembly plant — and thousands of other workers across the country — could strike if contract negotiations run past Thursday night’s expiration deadline.
Contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers International, which represents more than 140,000 workers, and Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, have stalled out. The sticking points are details related to wage increases, restoring cost of living adjustments, temporary worker wages and the ability to strike against plant closures.
Experts say a strike could leave a large economic impact in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and across the country. And a 10-day strike could cause $5 billion in economic losses across the country, according to a study by Anderson Economic Group. That estimate accounts for losses by striking workers, the manufacturers and the auto industry as a whole.
General Motors declined an interview with the Fort Worth Report, and UAW did not respond to requests for an interview. However, both released video updates about the negotiations.
UAW presented a 46% wage increase over four years, among other proposals for the new contract, citing rising prices and record profits from the companies. General Motors said the company can’t meet those demands. Mark Reuss, president of General Motors, said the new contract needs to be the best of both worlds.
“We need a fair contract that both rewards our employees and protects the long-term health of our business,” Reuss said.
On Sept. 7, General Motors proposed 10% wage increases, a $6,000 one-time inflation payment and $5,000 bonus “inflation protection” payments, according to a video update from the company. Shawn Fain, UAW president, called the offer “insulting” in a statement released online.
Union workers voted to authorize a strike on Aug. 25. The authorization is a common procedure that allows the union to strike if deemed necessary, but doesn’t ensure a strike will occur.
But Fain isn’t ruling out a strike. In a Facebook Live video on Sept. 8, he wore a button saying “I don’t want to strike, but I will!”
“We know that the cost of a strike might be high, but the cost of doing nothing is much higher,” Fain said in the video.
The assembly plant in Arlington broke a 70-month production record in April. In July, GM announced a $500 million investment in the Arlington assembly plant to produce future SUVs.
Cristina Benton, director of market and industry analysis at Anderson Economic Group, said consumers might not see an immediate effect if a strike were to occur. As time goes on, however, some may see limited availability of cars from Ford, Stellantis or General Motors, which together produce about half of the country’s vehicles, she said.
“The dealers have vehicles from their lots now,” Benton said. “It’s better than what we saw a year ago.”
By and large, if a strike were to happen, retailers and other local businesses could see a reduction in spending in the area due to the strike, Benton said. She saw that happen during the last auto strike in 2019, which lasted 40 days.
“In Texas, this will be a more localized impact, especially … closer to Arlington, and where UAW workers live and work,” Benton said. “But even a Midwest impact will have rippling effects across the country, including in Texas, depending on the length of the strike.”
The likelihood of a strike
The requests from the auto union are familiar to Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said. Over the past year, he’s seen various ratified and ongoing negotiations with airline pilots, UPS workers and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, all of which have wages as a focal point. Mostly, they are fighting for temporary and low-wage workers.
“They’re fighting for the lower-paid,” Wheaton said. “Because we’ve seen about 20 years of the tiers in different industries, where the people that were hired 20 years ago are making a lot more than the people hired yesterday, so that they pay newer workers less pay, less benefits in many sectors in many industries. And they’re trying to reverse that.”
UAW typically “targets” one of the three companies during negotiations, but this time the union is putting pressure on all three to come up with their best deals, Wheaton said.
Experts like Wheaton and Benton think there’s a good chance for a strike at General Motors given the union’s statements and bargaining position. The union is asking for large increases, and Wheaton doesn’t think the auto companies will give them everything they are asking for.
“I would say there’s a very good chance that the companies and businesses and restaurants and things in the Fort Worth area should prepare for a strike of some sort at GM,” Wheaton said. “But hopefully it won’t be a long extended one.”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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