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United Auto Workers go on strike against Ford, GM, Stellantis

Detroit’s Big Three automakers failed to reach a new labor agreement before their contract with employees represented by the United Auto Workers expired at midnight Thursday, triggering one of the largest strikes to hit the U.S. in years.

UAW President Shawn Fain said in a Facebook Live address late Thursday that employees at three factories for Ford, General Motors and Stellantis would immediately walk off the job. The factories include a GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan; and a Stellantis assembly complex in Toledo, Ohio.

“Tonight, for the first time in our history, we will strike all three of the Big Three at once,” he said.

Roughly 12,700 employees at those facilities will participate in the labor actions. While on strike, they will be paid about $500 a week from UAW’s $825 million strike fund, according to The Associated Press.

“The locals that are not yet called to join the stand-up strike will continue working under an expired agreement,” Fain said, while warning that workers at other plants may walk out if further talks with the automakers bog down.

The work stoppage marks the first strike at the Detroit-based automakers since workers walked out

GM CEO Mary Barra was the third highest-paid automotive CEO last year, according to a recent report. Barra’s compensation for the 2022 calendar year was substantially greater than that of Ford CEO James Farley. The report indicates that Barra’s compensation fell substantially between 2021 and 2022.

According to Automotive News, which cites a study from Equilar Inc., GM CEO Mary Barra’s total compensation for the 2022 calendar year was $34,106,824, down from $62,260,812 in 2021. Note that the $34.1 million figure for 2022 differs from the $28.9 million figure reported by Detroit Free Press previously.

The Automotive News report states that Barra’s base salary for 2022 was $2.1 million, with $6.2 million received in bonuses and incentive plans, $24.6 million in stock award gains, $2.1 million in accumulated pension benefits, $4.7 million in deferred compensation, and $1.1 million in other compensation. Although Barra’s compensation was down significantly from 2021, the GM CEO’s base salary was unchanged. However, Barra did not exercise any options in 2022, while gaining $26.5 million in options in 2021.

Meanwhile, Ford CEO Farley was 14th on the list, with a total compensation amounting to $18,340,695. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares was not included in the study, as the automaker is based overseas, but reportedly received $26 million in compensation.

The top two CEOs in the study eclipse the rest of the entries by a considerable margin. Lucid Group CEO Peter Rawlinson was ranked second on the list with a total compensation of $379,029,183, more than eleven times the compensation of GM CEO Mary Barra. Lucid produces high-end electric vehicles. At the top of the list was Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, who reportedly received $506,343,201 in compensation for 2022. Nvidia designs and supplies computer chips for use in automotive applications, including self-driving vehicles.

What is the average U.S. autoworker’s wage?

In general, factory workers are not salaried, but receive an hourly wage. On average, U.S. autoworkers on manufacturing production lines earned about $28 an hour in August, up $1 from the previous year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Individual auto workers’ pay varies depending on their tenure at a car manufacturer. Under the industry’s tiered wage system, more recent hires start at lower rates of pay than longer-tenured workers.

Top-tier workers — meaning anyone who joined the company in 2007 or earlier — make roughly $33 an hour on average, contract summaries for the Big Three show. Those hired after 2007 are part of the lower tier and earn up to $17 an hour based on a buildup of 6% annual raises under the last contract.

Unlike top-tier employees, lower-tier employees don’t receive defined benefit pensions, and their health benefits are less generous. UAW members want the two-tiered pay system abolished, arguing that it reduces lower-tier coworkers to the equivalent of second-class citizens.

Adjusting for inflation, autoworkers have seen their average wages fall 19.3% since 2008, according to Adam Hersh, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. That’s because autoworker “concessions made following the 2008 auto industry crisis were never reinstated,” Hersh said in a recent blog post, “including a suspension of cost-of-living adjustments.”

How much money do the Big Three automaker CEOs make?

Ford CEO Jim Farley earned $21 million in total compensation last year, the Detroit News reported, while Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares made $24.8 million, according to the Detroit Free Press (Stellantis, which was formed in 2021 in a merger between Fiat Chrysler and European automaker Groupe PSA, owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM, along with major foreign brands including Citroën, Peugeot and Maserati.)

GM CEO Mary Barras earned nearly $29 million in 2022 pay, Automotive News reported.

Overall CEO pay at the Big Three companies rose 40% from 2013 to 2022, according to EPI.

Barras makes 362 times more than the typical GM worker, while Tavares makes 365 times more, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Farley at Ford makes 281 times more, filings show.

UAW wants Ford and GM’s full-time assembly plant workers to make $32.32 an hour and Stellantis’ full-time employees to make $31.77 an hour. Fain said starting wages have decreased from 2007, when new workers made $19.60 an hour, or $28.96 an hour to account for inflation.

As of Sep 7, 2023, the average hourly pay for a Toyota Manufacturing in the United States is $24.27 an hour .

Pete Gruich, 56, who has worked at the Wayne factory for 25 years, said working on the assembly line is “hectic, and there’s no downtime.”

Pete Gruich has been an employee at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, for 25 years. He poses for a picture with UAW President Shawn Fain after Local 900 kicked off a strike against the Big Three Detroit automakers on Friday, September 15, 2023. / Credit: Pete Gruich

“When somebody takes a day off at final [assembly], it takes two people to do that job, sometimes three, because the jobs are so overloaded,” he added.

Gruich said there is a division among employees between those who make higher-tier wages and the ones who earn less. That’s because managers tell lower-tier employees that they’ll move them to the upper tier once a higher-paid worker has retired, but that rarely happens, he said.

Tensions were high at the plant for weeks leading up to the strike, Gruich said. On Thursday night, employees represented by UAW’s Local 900 got little work done and were eager to see how labor negotiations would play out, he said.

“We basically just sat the whole night until 10 p.m. when Fain decided to strike half of our plant,” he said.

Gruich said that shortly after Fain chose their union to strike, managers allowed employees to leave their workstations.

“We were held in the cafeteria until midnight [and] then they allowed us to go out,” he said. “Nobody was allowed to go back on the floor at that point.”

Once outside, the chants in support of the strike began, said Gruich, who noted that the younger workers were generally more animated, while people with more seniority took in the scene in silence.

Fain hasn’t said why UAW leadership chose the Wayne plant to strike. Gruich said he thinks it’s because workers at the facility also make parts of seven other plants in the Midwest that produce the Ford Escape, F-250, and F-350 vehicles as well as dashboards for the F-150. The parts manufacturing side of Wayne is still operating, but the union could ask those workers to walk out as well, Gruich said.

“After like a week or two of Ford not negotiating, they’ll end up shutting down the rest of the plant,” he predicted. “And that will in turn shut down six or seven other plants.”