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UAW workers scrape by on $18/hr while Big 3 execs rake in $20M

By Jake Beardslee · September 18, 2023

In brief…

  • UAW workers are on strike at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis plants, demanding higher wages and an end to two-tier pay scales. This is the first time the union has gone on strike against all 3 automakers at once.
  • Politicians such as Bernie Sanders have visited picket lines to show support with striking workers.
  • President Biden is sending White House representatives to help facilitate negotiations to end what could be a crippling strike.
  • GM says it has proposed historic wage increases, but workers remain unmoved.
  • Striking employees in Wayne, MI blocked plant entrances on Monday, prompting police intervention.
Pressure is mounting on the UAW and the Big 3 auto makers to reach an agreement soon.  U.S. Department of Agriculture/Public Domain

The historic United Auto Workers’ strike against the Big Three automakers entered its fourth day on Monday with no end in sight. Thousands of workers have walked off the job at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis plants across the Midwest, bringing auto production to a halt.

Pressure is mounting for both sides to reach an agreement, with Washington lawmakers beginning to get involved. Several congressional leaders visited Detroit over the weekend to walk the picket line and lend their support.

“The fight you are waging here is not just about decent wages and working conditions and pensions in the automobile industry. It is a fight to take on corporate greed,” Senator Bernie Sanders told striking workers at a UAW demonstration.

President Biden is sending representatives from the White House to Detroit to assist in the negotiations between the UAW and automakers with the goal of helping the two sides reach some kind of resolution and end the strike soon. The president, who is pro-union, has dispatched a White House advisor and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to Detroit

GM CEO Mary Barra defended her company’s proposal, telling Fox News, “We have a historic offer on the table, the highest in our 115-year history: 20% gross wage increases over the life of the contract. When you compound those, it’s 21%. [We’re] maintaining world-class health care. We’re not changing anything.”

The union is asking for 36% wage increases for workers spread out over 4 years, arguing that wages have not kept pace with inflation, especially when compared to the multi-million dollar compensation packages received by auto company CEOs last year. While some union workers are paid as little as $18 an hour, top executives at the Big 3 auto makers earn more than $20 million a year.

The UAW is also demanding an end to the two-tiered wage system that pays newer workers less with diminished benefits. While the automakers have offered larger wage increases than in past contracts, they say meeting all the union’s demands would threaten the viability of the companies.

But workers remain unsatisfied, as evidenced by the picket lines outside GM, Ford and Stellantis plants. In Wayne, Michigan on Monday morning, police were called in to clear traffic at the Ford Assembly Plant as striking workers blocked cars from entering and exiting the facility. Tensions soared as a strike that could cripple the national economy continued for another day.