click to enlarge “If we do this well, then heads are going to be spinning with how fast things are going to change,” UAW president Shawn Fain said. - Viola Klocko

Viola Klocko

“If we do this well, then heads are going to be spinning with how fast things are going to change,” UAW president Shawn Fain said.

UAW members at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis have voted to ratify their new contracts following the union’s historic “Stand Up Strike,” resulting in big gains for workers who sacrificed much in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

“The members have spoken,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement on Monday. “After years of cutbacks, months of our Stand Up campaign, and weeks on the picket line, we have turned the tide for the American autoworker.”

According to the union, 64% of voting members approved the contracts.

The gains include wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments, annual bonuses for retirees, and the elimination of wage tiers, a contentious practice in which newer hires were paid a lower rate than previous hires, with no track of advancing to the higher tier.

The wage increases range from at least 33% to more than 160% for some of the lowest-paid workers, with tens of thousands of workers seeing immediate raises of over 40% upon ratification. And now, there is a three-year wage progression to the top pay rate.

The union also successfully negotiated for Stellantis to reopen its Belvidere, Illinois plant that was shuttered in February and commit to building a $3.2 billion battery plant there employing more than a thousand union workers. According to the union, the company was set to eliminate some 5,000 U.S. hourly jobs, but it’s now on track to add more than 5,000. The union also negotiated commitments from all three automakers to bring thousands of electric vehicle and battery jobs under the union’s national agreements.

Retirees will also receive annual bonuses for the first time in 15 years, and workers hired before 2007 won an increase to their pension multiplier for the first time in over 15 years. The union did not win back defined benefit pensions for post-2007 hires, but employer contribution to their 401(k)s was boosted to 10%, the union says.

The 150,000 UAW autoworkers went on strike on Sept. 15 under the newly elected president Shawn Fain, a reform candidate who promised to clean up corruption at the union, which has seen more than a dozen union officials including two former presidents charged with crimes including embezzlement, kickbacks, and collusion. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice brokered a consent decree with the union that gave UAW members the ability to choose leadership by direct vote, which elected Fain in a close election where he won by just 500 votes.

A 54-year-old electrician from Kokomo, Indiana, Fain quickly made a name for himself with his Facebook Live addresses, quoting from the Bible and social justice figures like Malcom X and theatrically throwing rejected contracts in the trash. He has also positioned his fight as one against what has come to be known as “late capitalism,” occasionally donning a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Eat the rich.” Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at a Detroit rally in support of the union’s cause, and President Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to ever join a picket line, joining Fain and striking workers at Willow Run.

The Stand Up Strike strategy was a riff on the UAW’s famous sit-down strike in Flint in the 1930s, in which workers took over a GM plant and refused to work. In the Stand Up Strike, Fain placed workers from all three automakers on strike simultaneously for the first time in the union’s history, but staggered the plants in order to preserve the union’s strike fund and also give the union negotiating power over the Big Three.

Fain says he wants to expand the union, with plans to organize workers at non-union plants in the U.S. south, including Tesla, currently the world’s most valuable auto company.

One of the more eye-grabbing of Fain’s demands was a call for a 32-hour, four-day workweek for five day’s pay, though this was dropped in the negotiations. However, considering the success and popularity of four-day workweek experiments around the world, it seems likely that this issue will resurface. (That 40-hour, five-day workweek that is considered the norm now was something that unions once fought for.)

“The Stand Up Strike was just the beginning,” Fain said. “The UAW is back to setting the standard. Now, we take our strike muscle and our fighting spirit to the rest of the industries we represent, and to millions of non-union workers ready to Stand Up and fight for a better way of life.”

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