It’s been all over the news: The United Automobile Workers (UAW) are in the midst of an unprecedented strike that has seen 25,000 factory workers turn off the heavy machinery and stand together for higher wages. The automotive industry has been facing the same post-pandemic struggles that have carved into the health of several sectors––the Writers Guild of America recently ended its strike just shy of 150 days of continuous picketing thanks to a settled agreement that proved viable for both parties. Many other industries have been facing financial turmoil, along with employee morale going anywhere but up, and the automobile industry is the latest to be hit.
The current UAW strike plays a larger role than many realize. As the picket lines continue, supporting blue-collar workers in Michigan and beyond has become a cornerstone for the upcoming 2024 Presidential election. And, if you think that as a consumer, factory workers striking against their higher-ups doesn’t affect you, then I have unfortunate news for you: that shiny new vehicle you wanted to buy may not make it to the dealership lot for a while. However, it’s the livelihoods of these factory workers that are at stake and what you should care about the most. There are many angles at play, so I plan on looking at a few of them to uncover why you should care, why the strike needs to be de-escalated, how de-escalation could occur, and how it’ll benefit everyone involved. There’s much to discuss, and I have a few opinions on the matter that I’d like to shed some light on, so let’s begin.
The Demands Aren’t Ultimately Unruly
Strikes have historically been the catalysts that many manufacturers require to spark change. I’m a strong advocate for strikes when necessary, as some of my favorite industries––film, video games, and, of course, the automotive industry––have all had their fair share of strikes. A common problem, however, is that most industries don’t respond in a timely fashion. This won’t make the workers back down––and it shouldn’t. What this ultimately means for the company is the products they’re producing suffer in quality and quantity, which results in unhappy customers. These are things that should concern higher-ups because if the customers or shareholders ultimately aren’t happy––or if nobody is working the assembly line––then they’ll lose money and can’t afford those Montecristo cigars and top-shelf whiskey they’ve grown so accustomed to.
The demands of the UAW aren’t crazy in a world where the cost of living has skyrocketed so severely that if you’ve been making the same amount of money for the last few years, the number may remain the same, but the value has sunken like a boulder dropped into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It goes well beyond expendable pocket change for things like your lunch or an after-work drink and threatens the livelihood of those involved. I think we have all experienced the effects of inflation and shrinkflation in the past few years, even if you haven’t realized it. Take McDonald’s, for example. The dollar menu at McDonald’s is a fading memory, something to tell the future generations as tall tales of the past.
On a serious note, the UAW is standing up against the Big Three––the American automotive manufacturers operating out of Detroit, Michigan. The UAW is composed of factory workers from these three brands, which include Ford, GM, and Stellantis, with all of their subsidiaries. It’s worth noting the strikes aren’t exclusively in Detroit. So far, factory workers from almost half of America’s states have joined the fight––20 states, to be exact. I don’t currently own a vehicle from any of the Big Three, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the livelihoods of everyone employed at these automotive conglomerates.
What Are They Striking For?
So what are the demands? I don’t think they are egregious in any capacity, and instead, everything the UAW has listed out makes sense to me. All they want is a slice of the pie. Factory workers have been living on wages that have proven to be crippling in the modern day, while the corporate big-wigs have been seeing exponential growth for their wallets. If this sounds familiar to you and perhaps hits close to home, then remember what I said about other industries around the world facing similar problems.
The workers want to be treated better, which includes having far more employee incentives and, of course, more money directed towards the hard-working people who make all the magic happen in these automotive plants. I firmly believe these demands are well within the reach of automotive manufacturers, and there’s nothing about these demands that shows anything other than the desire to live comfortably in an ever-changing economy. These folks are the ones building the vehicles from the Big Three that we all know and love, so their opinions should matter.
Ford was the first to begin negotiations to reduce the heat, which has led to the other two manufacturers facing higher tension as the UAW closed more plants owned by GM and Stellantis. But Ford’s employees aren’t entirely satisfied yet, and the fight is far from over. I think Ford taking the first step is at least a move in the right direction, and while the negotiations are nowhere near concluded, it at least shows that one of the Big Three is on the verge of buckling under the pressure.
How about the specifics? The UAW wants incremental pay raises for the next four years, totaling 36% more than they are currently making. There are other demands as well, which include adjustments to workers’ paychecks based on inflation and the cost of living. As I’ve mentioned, calling inflation and the cost of living a problem right now would be an understatement. You must realize these manufacturers don’t lack money, and these strikes could have been over a week ago if the higher-ups got off their high horses and met the demands of their employees.
The State of Things
After only a couple of weeks of picketing, the situation hasn’t improved. Strikes rarely get resolved within a couple of weeks, with that aforementioned Hollywood writer’s strike being a fantastic example, as it took 148 days to reconcile. However, these strikes historically work, which is why they are a long-standing tactic. You and I have both been subject to the effects of strikes, whether that’s the excessive amount of reruns on television, not finding the vehicle you want at an automotive dealership due to supply constraints, or even food costs at the grocery stores rising on the higher end of the severity scale.
With the UAW strike under full swing, 25,000 factory workers are now locking arms in hopes of better wages. The first wave of the picketing saw over 13,000 workers strike, but that number rose to over 18,000 workers in the second wave and has now grown again––and the number is sure to increase before it gets lower. With around 150,000 members in the UAW, there are a fair amount of factory workers operating the facilities.
With over 100,000 employees still going to work every day, is it because they’re content with their pay? No. During strikes, it’s not uncommon to see a large number of workers stay stationed where they are, and the UAW is trying to stretch its strike fund as long as possible. People have families, bills, and mortgages––this is no joke. Realistically, it’s sad to witness, but you can’t blame the workers who have yet to pick up the picket signs because their situation may be quite dire.
Placing myself in the shoes of these workers isn’t easy either because I feel that it’s a harder choice than some may realize when it comes to abandoning their posts to join the crowds when their livelihood is at stake. It also doesn’t help that the average workflow for these remaining workers has likely increased due to having to pick up the slack. Does that mean the strikers are receiving $0 a week? Not quite, and that’s because the UAW is giving its striking workers $500 a week while the strikes take place. Yes, that’s it: $500. That’s not enough to live on, even in a healthier economy.
Here’s Why De-escalation Needs to Happen Now
If it hadn’t been obvious until now, I believe there are a couple of reasons why de-escalation needs to happen soon. If these corporations forgot about the UAW strike in 2019, this is their chance to avoid repeat disaster. Firstly, from the perspective of the factory worker, de-escalation needs to happen, but the only way this will realistically occur is if the three automotive manufacturers meet the workers’ demands in a way that satisfies both parties. The factory workers deserve living wages. They’re not asking to become rich; all they want is the opportunity to provide for their families and keep a roof over their heads––something you and I can likely relate to. Change needs to happen, but it’s up to the corporations, so only time will tell.
As for the corporations’ point of view, the question they have to ask themselves is: are they willing to have a repeat of the strike in 2019 when GM lost an estimated $4 billion in only 40 days of strikes? Some analysts believe the current strike has already cost the Big Three close to $2 billion, so you’d figure the higher-ups could figure out the math that paying their employees living wages is the right thing to do and also save them from the PR nightmares they’ve willingly thrown themselves into. Best of luck to the UAW members around the country––I, for one, support you.