By David Shepardson and Joseph White
DETROIT (Reuters) -United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain said on Friday that the union will not expand its strike against the Detroit Three automakers at the moment, but said its members would now walk out of additional facilities without warning rather than wait until Fridays to announce new plans.
“We’re entering a new phase of this fight and it demands a new approach,” said Fain in a livestreamed address on social media. He shifted tactics with little notice on Wednesday when he ordered a walkout at Ford Motor’s Kentucky Truck heavy-duty pickup and large SUV factory – the automaker’s largest, most lucrative single operation globally.
“We’re not waiting until Fridays anymore,” he said. “Now there’s only one rule – pony up.”
The UAW strike has hit the one-month mark with more than 34,000 union members working at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler parent Stellantis out on strike, including those at Ford’s cash-cow Kentucky plant.
While Fain on Friday warned of potential strikes at all of the Detroit automakers, he reserved his harshest remarks for Ford, which he accused of trying to game the talks with inadequate offers, prompting Wednesday’s walkout.
Referring to Ford CEO Jim Farley’s lucrative pay package, he said Farley should “go get the big checkbook – the one Ford uses when it wants to spend millions on company executives or Wall Street giveaways.”
Ford officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The talks have grown increasingly tense as Fain has continued his campaign of playing off the automakers against each other. However, some union officials privately say that some workers have begun complaining about the length of the strike.
Wells Fargo analyst Colin Langan on Friday estimated the UAW’s strike fund was still about $770 million, but industry officials have said the escalation against Ford’s most profitable trucks will also hurt workers’ profit-sharing checks.
Automakers have more than doubled initial wage hike offers to a range between 20% and 23%, agreed to raise wages along with inflation and improved pay for temporary workers. But the union wants higher wages still, the abolishment of a two-tier wage system and a clear path to organizing new joint-venture battery plants.
Over the past four weeks, Fain has used Friday addresses to order additional walkouts, or outline progress in bargaining.
The UAW has been intensively bargaining this week with Stellantis, including lengthy talks on Thursday. It is in discussions with GM about the parameters of a deal to include battery plant workers under a master labor agreement.
Stellantis said on Friday it had made progress in narrowing the gaps on issues of disagreement in talks with the UAW. However, it added that as a result of the strike it had furloughed an additional 700 workers at facilities in Kokomo, Indiana, raising that total to 1,340.
GM declined to comment but noted negotiations continue.
Some analysts said the decision to shut down Kentucky Truck and other high-profit Detroit Three operations is a sign that the endgame could be starting in the labor dispute.
“Shutting down Ford’s Kentucky truck plant has started to ratchet up pressure on GM and Stellantis and they’re starting to make progress,” said Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University.
Ford and GM shares were down 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively, on Friday. Stellantis shares closed 0.4% lower in Milan.
‘AT THE LIMIT’
On Thursday, a senior Ford executive said the automaker was “at the limit” of what it can spend on higher wages and benefits for the UAW. Its latest offer includes a 23% wage hike through early 2028.
“We have been very clear that we are at the limit,” said Kumar Galhotra, head of Ford’s combustion vehicle unit. “We stretched to get to this point. Going further will hurt our ability to invest in the business.”
Fain responded on Friday: “I found a pathetic irony in that statement. You know who’s reached their limit? The tens of thousands of Ford workers with no retirement security.”
Todd Dunn, president of the UAW local that represents the 8,700 workers at Ford’s Kentucky truck plant as well as those at the nearby Louisville assembly plant, said the truck plant walkout was necessary because Ford “took advantage of fact they had a reprieve” for the past two weeks and stopped making progress on key bargaining issues.
Ford has warned it could be forced to furlough as many as 4,600 workers as early as Friday. The automaker’s Louisville assembly plant, which builds compact Escape SUVs, could be forced to halt operations because it gets parts from Kentucky Truck, a union official told Reuters.
Ford said it is working with the UAW on a way to bring workers at joint venture EV battery plants into the UAW-Ford agreement.
Fain plans to visit striking Mack Trucks workers in Pennsylvania and Maryland this weekend. On Friday, he signaled the union will press the company to agree to cost-of-living allowances, or COLA, as part of a new deal.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Joseph White in Detroit and Abhirup Roy in San FranciscoAdditional reporting by Pushkala Aripaka, Shivansh Tiwary, Amna Karimi and Abhijith Ganapavaram in BengaluruWriting by David GaffenEditing by Jamie Freed, Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis)