UAW President Shawn Fain lambasts auto execs while wearing 'EAT THE RICH' T-shirt
UAW President Shawn Fain, wearing an "EAT THE RICH" T-shirt, passionately denounced auto executives for looking down on working-class auto workers in a speech on Facebook Live on Friday.
But first, Fain touted a major win: He said that GM had agreed to cover battery workers in the same contract as assembly line workers. That's a significant breakthrough in talks, one car companies had previously said would be a non-starter.
The progress meant Fain did not announce an expansion of the strike as he has in each of the previous two weeks.
But the news that negotiations are moving along did not come with any relaxation of the intense, combative rhetoric that has become a trademark of Fain's UAW presidency.
Here are six things to know about Fain's fiery speech.
There's no deal yet
Fain touted substantial progress in talks with the Big Three automakers, including on things like wages and temp conversions, but he also made clear there was not yet a tentative deal with any company.
The Big Three and the union remain far apart on pensions and post-retirement healthcare, which the union wants restored and the companies say are financially untenable.
The plants and warehouses that are currently striking will remain on the picket line until a tentative agreement has been reached.
Fain is doubling down on class rhetoric ...
Fain has previously described this strike as a war between the working class and the billionaire class, a framing he leaned hard on throughout his speech.
"I'll tell it to you straight. The billionaires and company executives think U.S. autoworkers are just dumb," he told UAW members. "They think we don't get it."
"They look at me and they see some redneck from Indiana," he added. "They look at you and see somebody they would never have over for dinner or let ride on their yacht or fly on their private jet."
... and sticking with his strike strategy
Fain was also eager to reassure UAW members that the union's unprecedented strike strategy is working. The union struck all three companies at once, but started with just a handful of plants.
"They think they know us, but us autoworkers know better," he said. "We may be foul mouthed, but we're strategic. We may get fired up, but we're disciplined. And we may get rowdy. But we're organized."
The strike began with just three assembly plants before expanding to the parts distribution centers of Stellantis and GM, and two more assembly plants at Ford and GM.
The companies' most profitable plants remain running for now. Fain said that was very intentional, a strategy that leaves the union with more cards left to play. Striking at those plants is a "bazooka" the union can use later, he says.
"We're not here to start a fight," he said. "We're here to finish one."
The union claimed a big win from GM on battery plants
In a strike that's been haunted by history, the United Auto Workers just landed a win that's all about the future.
During his speech, Fain said General Motors had agreed to cover future battery workers under the same lucrative contract as assembly plant employees.
"We've been told for months that this is impossible," Fain said. "The plan was to draw down the engine and transmission plants and permanently replace them with low-wage battery jobs. We had a different plan, and our plan is winning."
In fact, Fain said he had been planning to announce a major strike at a lucrative GM plant in Arlington, Texas, but decided not to given this substantial and unexpected concession from GM.
GM did not confirm the offer, issuing a brief statement that can be summed up with its first three words: "Negotiations remain ongoing."
The UAW's battery demand was seen by many as unrealistic
Many of the union's core demands have been about clawing back concessions they made around the time of the financial crisis, and bringing back the enviable pay and perks that a previous generation of autoworkers enjoyed.
Covering battery jobs is about the next generation, as the auto industry prepares for a future with a lot more batteries and a lot fewer engines. Battery plants so far have generally offered lower pay and benefits compared to other autoworker jobs.
The union wanted guarantees about job protection and job quality at those battery plants. Companies say they need to maintain flexibility, and a large cash cushion, to pull off that transition.
Directly negotiating the terms of those battery plant jobs in these particular UAW talks had been seen as a non-starter, in part because many of those future plants are run as joint ventures with others instead of directly operated by GM. Auto companies argued that the plants needed to unionize one by one as they are established, and negotiate their own contracts.
It's unclear if Ford and Stellantis will follow
Ford recently said battery plants were the sticking point in that company's talks with the union.
"Keep in mind, these battery plants don't exist yet," Ford CEO Jim Farley said last week. "They're mostly joint ventures. They've not been organized by the UAW yet because the workers haven't been hired and won't be for many years to come."
Ford execs also argued that covering battery workers under the same agreement as other workers would not allow them to be competitive across different regions in the U.S. Many future battery plants are being built in famously anti-union regions in the South where wages are generally lower.
A Stellantis executive, in an email to employees, said he was "optimistic" that the negotiations have a "pathway" to an agreement. The statement did not mention battery plants.
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