Fain: UAW files unfair labor practice charges against GM, Stellantis

Amid a contentious set of contract negotiations with the Detroit automakers, UAW President Shawn Fain said Thursday that the union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Stellantis NV and General Motors Co.

Fain, speaking during a live-streamed bargaining update for members, claimed the two automakers have yet to provide the union with counteroffers on economic issues one month since the union negotiators presented the companies with their economic proposals.

“GM and Stellantis’ willful refusal to bargain in good faith is not only insulting and counterproductive, it’s also illegal,” Fain said. “That’s why today our union filed unfair labor practice charges, or ULPs, against both GM and Stellantis with the National Labor Relations Board.”

Both GM and Stellantis objected to Fain’s comments.

“Stellantis has not received the filing but is shocked by Mr. Fain’s claims that we have not bargained in good faith. This is a claim with no basis in fact, and we are disappointed to learn that Mr. Fain is more focused on filing frivolous legal charges than on actual bargaining,” spokesperson Jodi Tinson said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend this charge when the time comes, but right now, we are more focused on continuing to bargain in good faith for a new agreement. We will not allow Mr. Fain’s tactics to distract us from that important work to secure the future for our employees.”

Gerald Johnson, GM’s executive vice president of global manufacturing, said in a statement that the Detroit automaker also is “surprised by and strongly refutes the NLRB charge filed by the International UAW. We believe it has no merit and is an insult to the bargaining committees. We have been hyper-focused on negotiating directly and in good faith with the UAW and are making progress. The pace of negotiations is based on how quickly both parties resolve nearly 1,000 UAW demands, including more than 90 presented this week. Our goal remains the same — to achieve an agreement without a disruption that rewards our team members and protects the future of the entire GM team.”

The charges the union filed with the NLRB are “an elevation of the level of tension between the parties,” said Marick Masters, a management professor and labor expert at Wayne State University. “It’s not uncommon for the union to file unfair labor practice charges against the company during negotiations for not negotiating in good faith. But at the same time, it does elevate the level of tension between the parties. The declaration of an unfair labor practice strike, if the NLRB were to determine that, would mean the company cannot replace the strikers.”

Meanwhile, details emerged on what Ford Motor Co. is offering to the union — proposals that Fain slammed during his remarks online.

The Dearborn automaker is proposing a 9% wage increase over four years, a reduction of the time it takes workers to reach the top of the wage scale from eight to six years, elimination of wage tiers, a 20% starting wage increase for temporary workers to $20 per hour, $5,500 ratification bonuses, and $12,000 over four years in what the company calls a “cost-of-living adjustment bonus.” That is different than the cost-of-living adjustment the union is seeking, which ties wages to the federal inflation index.

The automaker issued a press release detailing its proposals minutes after Fain publicly criticized Ford’s proposal.

“After extensive negotiations, Ford has presented a generous offer on the upcoming contract that would provide our hourly employees with 15% guaranteed combined wage increases and lump sums, and improved benefits over the life of the contract,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement. “Overall, this offer is significantly better than what we estimate workers earn at Tesla and foreign automakers operating in the U.S.”

Farley went on to say that Ford would “not make a deal that endangers our ability to invest, grow and share profits with our employees” but “believe(s) there is a path to succeed together in what is the most competitive and fast-changing era in the history of the American auto industry.”

The UAW has proposed a 46% wage increase over four years. It also is seeking a 32-hour work week for 40 hours’ pay, rolling over all current supplemental employees to full-time, cost-of-living adjustments, defined benefit pensions and retiree health care for all, increases to retiree benefits, the right to strike over plant closures, and more paid time off. All told, the demands could increase total labor costs, including wages and benefits, to more than $100 per hour per worker. The Detroit automakers’ current all-in labor costs are around $65 per hour compared to $55 at foreign automakers and $45 at Tesla Inc.

“We will accept nothing less than consistent living wages that will grow with the economy,” Fain said. “If Ford thinks we will accept a single-digit pay increase and no cost-of-living allowance, then I hope these shareholders know how to work on an assembly line — because those are going to be the only people left to build cars come Sept. 15.”

He was also critical of the company’s positions on the union’s job security proposals, the company’s proposal of a six-year grow-in period and other aspects of Ford’s response.

Ryan Ashley, an hourly worker at Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant, said the company sent out information about its offer on an app for employees Thursday night and that the reaction he saw on the shop floor was largely negative.

“It’s nothing short of a slap in the face,” he said, citing the company’s 9% wage increase offer, the proposed continuation of a years-long grow-in period for workers to reach top pay, the company not offering a cost-of-living adjustment to workers’ base wages, and the increase to a $20 starting wage for temps.

“We have plenty of temps here making $16.70 an hour, and they’re barely getting by — $20, that isn’t much better,” he said. Ashley also noted hefty raises of around 40% that other unions, such as the Teamsters at UPS and the Air Line Pilots Association at United Airlines, were able to secure recently for their members.

“Ford has a long way to go if they want to get our members’ support on a contract,” he said.

Despite Fain’s dismissal of Ford’s proposals, Masters said it appears the UAW’s negotiations with the Dearborn automaker are less antagonistic than those involving GM and Stellantis.

“Ford and the UAW are obviously talking, and I would presume that they’re in a position where there’s some opportunity to make progress,” he said. “And it is very noteworthy that they did not file the charges against Ford.”

Fain has pointed to the automakers’ profits as proof they can afford to improve pay and benefits for UAW members. In 2022, GM, Stellantis and Ford reported adjusted operating income in North America, respectively, of $13 billion, $15.2 billion and $9.2 billion.

The contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 14. UAW members at all three automakers overwhelmingly authorized the union to call a strike if favorable contracts haven’t been reached by the deadline.

(Detroit News staff Writers Kalea Hall and Breana Noble contributed.)

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This story was originally published August 31, 2023, 11:03 PM.