Prepared by members of the UAW Solidarity Committee
In September 2023, the United Auto Workers union (UAW) went on strike against the Big Three automakers — Ford, GM, and Stellantis. After more than a month of picket lines and bold strike tactics, the union has ratified contracts with the Big Three. Those contracts are historic, enshrining major raises, good union jobs in the transition to electric vehicles, and more. This brief lays out an overview of how the strike started, what the workers won, and key next steps for the UAW and their allies in the movements for environmental, social and racial justice.
Background on the Strike
The UAW’s strike has its roots in the 2008 recession, when the union was forced to make major concessions in exchange for critical financial assistance to the Big Three. In the 15 years since first accepting a two-tiered wage system with slower progression to top pay rates, no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), and deteriorating retirement benefits, the union has been unsuccessful in walking those concessions back.
As workers continued to suffer under those austerity measures, the Big Three’s profits soared. From 2013 to 2022, the automakers collectively raked in $250 billion of profit and spent $66 billion on shareholder dividends and stock buybacks. In the last four years alone, their CEOs’ pay has shot up by 40%. The automakers have simultaneously undercut worker pay and benefits in the transition to electric vehicles, claiming that a legal loophole exempted them from putting new battery plants under their master agreements with UAW.
Autoworkers, frustrated after years of these widening disparities, elected UAW President Shawn Fain on a promise to take a harder line in future contract negotiations. So when the Big Three refused to meet UAW’s demands for their new contracts, the union struck the Big 3 automakers all at once for the first time in their history.
Content of the Ratified Contracts
Following the union’s historic Stand Up Strike, UAW auto workers ratified their contracts with the Big Three. Their bold strategy and targeted strikes resulted in historic concessions, including:
- Provisions for expanding unionized EV work. The agreement with General Motors includes a commitment to future battery plants being included in the national agreement with UAW – meaning they will be good union jobs. Other contracts include guarantees for lower barriers to unionization at specific battery plants and commitments to the expansion of EV production already being done by unionized workers at existing plants.
- A 25% wage increase, including an 11% bump in the first year plus restoration of cost-of-living adjustments.
- An end to wage tiers that kept some employees at lower pay than others — a historic and important win for ensuring that EV work is both high-paying and union.
- An end to permanent ‘temporary’ employee status, with temps converting to full employment status after 9 months of work. This win will result in thousands of temporary employees who have spent years working at the company being able to reap the pay and benefits of employment status as soon as the contract is ratified.
- The right to strike over plant closures at all three automakers, which will provide the UAW critical leverage against the Big Three shipping jobs to anti-union states and overseas.
- Reopening the Belvidere Assembly Plant to manufacture EV batteries and serve as a parts depot — one of the only Big Three plants ever reopened after a closure
- The Stellantis agreement includes a moratorium on outsourcing, as well as product and investment commitments, giving workers significant leverage over corporate decision-making.
- Many critical provisions that provide protection for employees during transitions, such as allowing some employees to maintain their seniority from closed or idled plants, transfer rights, and increased moving allowance.
- Many significant investments in providing a safety net for workers during a transition, such as increased investment in retirement, tuition assistance, and a year of healthcare coverage following indefinite layoffs.
- The contract will expire on April 30, 2028 so that workers can strike on May 1st- International Workers Day. President Fain has called on other unions to align their contract expiration dates, as to maximize their collective power.