Members of the United Automobile Workers union threw their support behind new contracts with the Big Three U.S. automakers, deals that provide significant wage increases and other gains that had eluded the union for more than 20 years.
In the most controversial vote, the tentative agreement at General Motors won the support of 55 percent of the nearly 36,000 members who voted, according to a count of all GM premises that the union published on Thursday.
Agreements in principle with Ford engine And Stellantisthe maker of brands including Jeep and Chrysler, appeared to be headed toward approval by more decisive margins, as the near-complete results showed.
A union spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the figures but declined to comment further.
The agreements are similar between the three automakers and increase the maximum wage for production workers by 25 percent, to more than $40 over four and a half years, from $32. They were reached last month after a six-week wave of strikes that paralyzed businesses – a strategy led by the union’s new president, Shawn Fain, who had pledged to take a more confrontational approach to bargaining than his predecessors .
The agreements appear to have quickly rippled across the auto industry, with Toyota, Hyundai and Honda announcing significant wage increases at non-union factories in the United States days later.
“We call it the UAW hump, and it means ‘U Are Welcome,'” Mr. Fain said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this week. “And we are very proud of it. And when these workers decide to organize and join the UAW, they will realize all the benefits of union membership and get what is fully due to them.
The new contracts also included higher company contributions to workers’ pension plans and the right to strike in the event of factory closures. All three automakers declined to comment on the ratification votes.
Mr. Fain said the union was seeking to capitalize on its momentum by leading aggressive organizing campaigns in non-unionized factories and, Remarks submitted to the Senate committee, he said thousands of workers were already contacting the union and signing union cards.
But even Mr. Fain’s tough approach to negotiations with the Big Three has not resulted in terms attractive enough for many union members. GM workers at several major plants voted overwhelmingly against the tentative agreement.
In contrast, members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently approved a new contract with United Parcel Service with 86 percent support, while a new contract between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios passed with a 99 percent support.
Rebecca Givan, a social studies professor at Rutgers University, said Mr. Fain had won a major victory despite taking office a few months earlier in an effort to reorient the union.
Dr Givan said the union’s approach of initially striking at one factory at each of the three carmakers and escalating over time had “really upended a lot of conventional wisdom” in the union movement and was found to be exceptionally effective in reversing certain concessions made by the union. had agreed to years earlier, such as suspending the cost of living adjustment.
“It shows that if workers develop enough power, they can take things back,” she said.
UAW members at Mack Truck too ratified a contract on Wednesday, after rejecting an initial agreement with the company.
At the three automakers, skepticism over the deals came largely from veteran workers who felt the proposed contracts did not go far enough to compensate them for years of concessions and low wage growth, even if the new workers had benefited from significant gains. Wages for some new workers will more than double over the next four years.
Huey Harris, a GM employee at a large truck assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, said the deal should have gone further in rewarding veteran workers , even if he ultimately voted for it. “The traditional people didn’t think they were being given enough deals in the contract,” he said.
Several longtime employees of the Big Three automakers said that even after the big gains from the new deal, they wouldn’t do more than they did at the start of their careers.
Curtis March, who works at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant, said he earned about $18 an hour once he reached the company’s top production worker wage in the early 1990s, which is equivalent to more than $40 today when adjusted for inflation. He will earn about $36 in the first year of the new contract.
Mr. March said the deal was likely to pass at Ford because it placed newer employees, who outnumber veterans like him. Workers at his factory approved the deal after voting against several previous contracts.
Despite the ultimate success, the contract ratification process led to some internal tensions for Mr. Fain and the union. Unite All Workers for Democracy, a reform group that played a key role in electing Mr. Fain and six other UAW executive council members to their positions, declined to formally recommend that union members approve the contract, even after Mr. Fain urged the group. to do so at a recent meeting, according to three people familiar with the meeting. Instead, Unite All Workers adopted A resolution committing it to remain neutral in the ratification vote, while declaring that the group “celebrates the record gains made in this agreement”.
Two of those people also said General Motors’ union department had been less communicative and less proactive in distributing contract information to local union officials and members than departments at Ford and Stellantis.
The union declined to comment on these developments.
Ratification could also bring political benefits to President Biden, who waded into negotiations over the summer and fall and risked angering business leaders by increasingly siding more on the side of union members.
Administration officials were upset in August when Mr. Fain called for a 40 percent raise for auto workers and a four-day work week. Leaders of the Big Three called the White House to ask if Mr. Fain was serious. A senior administration official said Biden aides had reassured them that the union wanted a deal, but acknowledged that negotiations could play out very differently from the way automakers were accustomed to.
In mid-September, while Mr. Biden was in New York for meetings at the United Nations General Assembly, he joined his aides on a video call to make a decision that he and his team had been mulling over for weeks: joining auto workers on a picket line in Detroit. The move infuriated leaders, the administration official said, but the White House saw it as a victory for the president and for workers, making a clear statement about Mr. Biden’s position in the negotiations.
Some autoworkers argued that the union erred in not expanding the strike, which ultimately affected about a third of the company’s unionized U.S. workers, if not more.
LaDonna Newman, another longtime Ford employee who opposed the contract because of its limited gains for veteran workers, said she believed the union could have won more at the bargaining table if it had been willing to go further.
Yet she did not blame Mr. Fain for the outcome. “He walked into a burning building,” Ms. Newman said. “I give him a lot of credit for having the courage to go against the corporations.”
Jim Tankersley And Sophie Lada reports contributed.