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An unprecedented strike breaks out in the automobile sector in the United States

From our correspondent in Washington.

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An unprecedented strike breaks out in the automobile sector in the United States

From our correspondent in Washington

By paralyzing production of three of the most popular models from General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the unique auto workers union has made good on its threat. The simultaneous strike of three historic American manufacturers launched by the UAW (United Auto Workers), which began at midnight Washington time, is unprecedented.

Shawn Fain, the new president of the UAW, believes he has found an "economical" method to inflict maximum pain on the three manufacturers, while minimizing the cost of the strike to the 146,000 workers he represents in negotiations aimed at renew their four-year-old employment contract, which has just expired.

Initially, only 12,700 workers from GM, Ford and Stellantis (owner of Chrysler) stopped work. If the show of force is not enough to produce new proposals for higher wages, better pensions and pay scale reforms, the UAW reserves the right to expand the strike to other factories beyond. beyond the three targets for the moment.

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The GM site in Wentzville (Missouri), which employs 3,600 workers, notably for the production of the Chevrolet Colorado pickup, is at a standstill. The Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan and its 3,300 workers no longer assemble the Ranger and Bronco models. On the other hand, the stamping activity of this site is for the moment excluded from the movement by the UAW. Finally, in Toledo (Ohio), the 5,800 members of the UAW no longer assemble the Wrangler and Gladiator models from Jeep, one of Chrysler's brands. It is estimated that each week of strike at these three sites would block the production of around 24,000 vehicles.

The UAW has a hiring monopoly on the GM, Ford and Stellantis chains. Any worker paid by the hour at these three manufacturers must be part of the union. Shawn Fain, narrowly elected last March on the promise of shaking up labor relations among the “Big Three” of Detroit, has been preparing his troops for months for a long and costly conflict. Contrary to the tradition that the UAW chooses one of the three manufacturers to negotiate a new four-year labor contract, the former electrician from Kokomo (Indiana) wants to strike hard and attacks both GM, Ford and Stellantis. Usually the terms of a new contract negotiated with one of the manufacturers are then extended and adapted to the other two.

Shawn Fain's approach is partly explained by the loss of representativeness of the UAW. Now the Detroit “Big Three” only represent 40% of American automobile production. The union has never been able to obtain a majority vote from workers at foreign manufacturers established in the United States, such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz or Hyundai. The UAW leadership, destabilized by years of corruption scandals that sent two of Shaw Fain's predecessors to prison, is further alarmed by the emergence of multiple non-union, subsidized battery factories in the United States. by the federal government, intended to supply a new electricity sector employing significantly less labor to produce an equivalent number of vehicles.

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The negotiation of the new UAW labor contract focused on the demand for a 40% increase and the elimination of the double salary scale, a regime born in 2009, designed to get GM and Chrysler out of the filing for bankruptcy. It reserves the best remuneration of more than 32 dollars per hour for workers with more than 8 years of seniority. More recently hired workers now earn less than $17 an hour.

The UAW has reduced its wage increase ambitions to around 35% in recent weeks, while manufacturers have offered to increase the benchmark wage from 17.5 to 20%. However, the respective positions of the negotiators remain very far apart. None of the three giants, for example, proposed the elimination of the double salary scale.

Ford estimates the UAW's demands would double the company's labor costs in the United States. GM estimates the cost of wage and pension demands made by the union to be $100 billion over four years. “It's more than twice the value of GM and it would be absolutely impossible to absorb,” explains Gerald Johnson, production manager for the Detroit group. Shawn Fain counters that the manufacturers' management has awarded themselves massive remunerations in recent years, that the manufacturers' profits are high and that share buybacks on the stock market enrich the shareholders at the expense of the workers.

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