DETROIT (WWJ) — For the first time in UAW history, the union has begun a strike against all Big Three automakers at the same time.
Rolling out a new “stand-up strike” tactic, President Shawn Fain on Thursday night called on members at three plants to walk off the job as the union could not reach new contracts with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis ahead of the 11:59 Thursday deadline.
The UAW is calling on select facilities, locals or units to “stand up” and go on strike, strategically hitting the automakers in what Fain calls "our generation's defining moment."
“This strategy will keep the companies guessing. It will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in bargaining. And if we need to go all-out, we will,” Fain said during a Facebook livestream two hours ahead of the deadline.
"The money is there. The cause is righteous. The world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up. This is our defining moment," he said.
Workers at GM’s Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri and the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Plant are the other two facilities Fain called on to strike. The locals that are not yet called on to strike will continue working under an expired contract.
Fain said only final assembly and paint workers in Local 900, Region 1 A will go on strike at the Michigan plant, where they make the Bronco and Ranger. Fain joined workers there early Friday morning shortly after the strike began.
Workers walked out of the plant in Wayne, Michigan, and began cheering, chanting and singing as the strike began at midnight.
It is not yet clear how long the workers at each of the three plants will remain on strike or when the UAW might call on more facilities to strike.
The union elected to target the three assembly plants after many experts had anticipated a number of parts facilities or distribution centers to be targeted after Fain's update on Wednesday.
The Ford plant in Wayne makes the Bronco and Ranger, while the Jeep plant in Toledo makes the Wrangler and Gladiator and the GM facility in Missouri makes the midsize pickups Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
Ford released a statement after Fain's remarks at 10 p.m. Thursday, saying a strike could have "wide-ranging consequences" for their business and the economy as a whole.
Stellantis officials, meanwhile, said they are "extremely disappointed by the UAW leadership's refusal to engage in a responsible manner to reach a fair agreement in the best interest of our employees, their families and our customers."
"We immediately put the Company in contingency mode and will take all the appropriate structural decisions to protect our North American operations and the Company," a Stellantis statement said.
The UAW and automakers are at odds over a number of issues, but front of mind for the union workers is a significant boost in wages. The UAW has been requesting a 40% increase in wages over the next four years, but the companies have not come close to offering that much.
As of Wednesday, Ford had offered a 20% increase, Fain said in a Facebook live update to members, while GM was at 18% and Stellantis at 17.5%. GM reportedly raised that offer to 20% on Thursday afternoon as negotiations continued with the clock winding down.
But Fain said Thursday the union remains committed to getting a deal they have been fighting for.
"We've been working hard trying to reach a deal for economic and social justice for our members. We have been firm," he said.
The union has also been seeking an end to the two-tiered wage system, as well as improvements to job security, pensions and other benefits.
While the UAW believes wages have fallen behind the rising cost of living and automakers are making record profits – reportedly around $250 billion combined between the Detroit Three over the last decade – the companies say they need to remain competitive and keep wages affordable as the industry makes a shift to electric vehicles.
A Ford source told WWJ AutoBeat Reporter earlier on Thursday they remained “hopeful” a strike could be averted, though there was “none of the last-minute back-and-forth that you would expect at a time like this.”
Carmakers have been making preparations to deal with the UAW’s strike, with their priorities being keeping parts flowing to dealers across the country and making sure plants outside the U.S. can keep running, according to Gilbert.
LMC Automotive Analyst Jeff Schuster told WWJ earlier Thursday while a strike against a big assembly plant would be “dramatic,” striking specific parts plants could have a ripple effect, as was the plan laid out on Wednesday.
“It makes a lot of sense from the UAW side because you could have a lot of impact on a large number of assembly plants by striking strategic plants, you know, transmissions or engines,” Schuster said.
A prolonged strike could affect not only the nearly 150,000 UAW members at plants and distribution centers across the country, but other auto-related industries.