A war of words between the United Auto Workers and Detroit’s Big Three escalated as a Stellantis NV executive said the union rejected a “compelling solution” for an idled Jeep plant in Illinois, a priority for the company’s unionized workers.
(Bloomberg) — A war of words between the United Auto Workers and Detroit’s Big Three escalated as a Stellantis NV executive said the union rejected a “compelling solution” for an idled Jeep plant in Illinois, a priority for the company’s unionized workers.
It’s the latest sign of conflict after UAW members began a strike at all three major automakers on Friday that threatens billions in losses if it spreads to more plants and is rippling into politics ahead of the 2024 presidential campaign.
Stellantis provoked the union’s ire this spring by idling its Belvidere, Illinois, Jeep plant that employed more than 1,300 people, citing the costly shift to electrification.
The offer was contingent upon the UAW accepting Stellantis’ entire economic proposal before the contract expired at midnight Thursday, Mark Stewart, Stellantis’s chief operating officer in North America, said on a call with reporters Saturday.
Earlier: Automakers, UAW Spend Strike’s First Day in War of Words
“We gave a very compelling commitment around our Belvidere area, and a commitment around jobs in Belvidere, and a solution for Belvidere,” Stewart said, without disclosing the details of the offer. “That was contingent on us resolving that before the contract expiration, so we’ll have to revisit all of those items.”
Stellantis is “playing games” and treating workers as a bargaining chip, UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement. He didn’t comment on specifics of any plan to save the Belvidere plant.
Earlier, the UAW said it had “reasonably productive conversations” with Ford on Saturday.
The United Auto Workers and the Detroit Three carmakers have continued bargaining even as some union members walked off the job Thursday night at plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. Union leaders took a break Friday afternoon as Fain led a rally in downtown Detroit that drew Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and a crowd of union members and supporters.
Stellantis, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have taken a more public and aggressive media stance in this year’s negotiations to respond to Fain.
He’s been holding regular live online briefings for the 150,000 union employees of the carmakers, laying out their proposals and accusing them of corporate greed.
The UAW’s three-pronged attack comes amid a resurgence of labor activism in the US as workers, emboldened by tight labor markets and agitated by inflation, push for higher wages and better benefits.
President Joe Biden, who has called himself the most pro-union president in US history, said Friday that the automakers had made significant offers but “should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”
Earlier Saturday, Stellantis bumped its wage proposal to a 21% cumulative raise for hourly workers over the four-year contract, from a previous offer of 17.5%. It also said it would cut the time it takes employees to progress to a top wage in half to four years.
Stewart called Stellantis’s latest proposal a “very compelling offer” that addresses the toll inflation has taken on workers’ paychecks. But he echoed comments by GM and Ford executives this past week, stressing that workers’ demands must be balanced against competitive pressure from non-union car companies such as Tesla Inc.
He also said Stellantis would reserve the right to close plants over the life of the contract, a rejection of a key UAW demand and a contrast to GM, which has offered its workers a job-security guarantee over the next four years.
Read more: UAW Calls Unprecedented Strike at Detroit Three Automakers
The two sides have to find a compromise “for our company to continue the investment path we have for electrification, and for our US operations to be strong,” Stewart said.
“It’s not about not about warfare, it’s about win-win,” he said.
–With assistance from David Welch.
(Updates with UAW response to Stellantis in sixth paragraph.)
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