Monday, March 4, 2024

After winning major gains in wages and benefits from two of the three Detroit automakers, the United Automobile Workers union is looking beyond the Motor City to car companies operating nonunion factories across the South.

In a speech to union members live-streamed on Facebook Sunday night, the U.A.W. president, Shawn Fain, said the union planned a push to organize plants at some of the nonunion automakers, such as Toyota, Honda, and Tesla.

“One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before,” Mr. Fain said. “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three. It will be the Big Five or Big Six.”

The statement was one of Mr. Fain’s clearest to date that the U.A.W. intended to renew efforts to unionize the plants of foreign-owned automakers and Tesla, which operates nonunion vehicle plants in California and Texas.

The U.A.W. has previously tried to unionize Southern auto plants — where workers typically make significantly less than the top U.A.W. wage — with little success. While it has unionized some small component plants in the South, and represents workers employed by heavy truck manufacturers like Mack and Freightliner, it has not been able to organize plants owned by any major automaker there.

Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against U.A.W. representation in 2014. Workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., did the same in 2017. U.A.W. organizers have also tried to win support at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

Mr. Fain said the increased wages and benefits in a tentative contract agreement with Ford Motor would help the U.A.W. and other unions win gains for working-class people.

Harley Shaiken, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who has followed the U.A.W. for more than three decades, said the tentative agreements with Ford and Stellantis should improve the U.A.W.’s image and lift its prospects in the South.

“The union is not back to where it was 30 years ago in terms of influence, but this is a step to restoring power to the U.A.W. and to unions in general,” he said.

On Sunday, a U.A.W. council that oversees negotiations with Ford approved the tentative agreement hammered out with Ford on Wednesday. In a statement, Ford said it would give an assessment of how the contract affects its business after ratification.

On Saturday, the union announced it had a tentative contract agreement with Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram vehicles.

The agreement closely follows the terms reached with Ford, a method known as pattern bargaining. Stellantis also agreed to reopen a plant in Belvidere, Ill., that had been idled this year, and to keep an engine plant in Michigan and a machining factory in Ohio that the company had considered closing.

Union workers have begun returning to work at the three Ford plants that were affected by the union’s growing wave of strikes. Stellantis workers are expected to begin returning to work in the next day or so.

The U.A.W. began its strikes on Sept. 15 and eventually expanded it to include about 18,000 workers at three Ford vehicle plants and more than 14,000 workers at two Stellantis plants that make pickup trucks and Jeeps along with 20 Stellantis parts distribution warehouses.

The union is continuing to negotiate with General Motors, and on Saturday expanded its strike against the automaker, telling workers to walk out at a factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. All told, about 14,000 U.A.W. workers are on strike at G.M. The other affected locations include plants in Missouri, Michigan, and Texas and 18 parts warehouses.

In a statement, G.M. said it was “disappointed” by the expansion of the strike, adding, “We have continued to bargain in good faith with the U.A.W., and our goal remains to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”

Mr. Fain used most of his address to outline the details of the union’s tentative agreement with Ford. It calls for significant wage increases for many of the company’s 57,000 U.A.W. workers. By the end of the agreement’s four-and-a-half-year term, most workers will earn $40.82 an hour.

That gives workers now earning the top wage of $32 an hour increases of 25 percent; for some workers lower on the wage scale, wages will more than double. At the new top wage, employees working 40 hours a week will earn about $84,000 a year. Profit-sharing bonuses and overtime work will enable many U.A.W. members to make more than $100,000 a year.

The tentative deal also gives workers additional paid time off, including two weeks of paid family leave and paid leave for jury duty. It also allows temporary employees, who currently earn $16.67 an hour, to gain permanent status after 90 days, and to rise to the top wage in three years.

If the agreement is ratified by a majority of Ford’s U.A.W. workforce, most workers will get an immediate 11 percent wage increase and will be given bonuses of $5,000 each.

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