Ford-UAW deal: Declare victory and go home

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The current United Auto Workers strike against the Big Three automakers has been more of a public relations spectacle than an actual strike. At no point over the strike’s nearly eight weeks have more than 30 percent of UAW members been on the picket lines. Throughout the “strike” most of domestic auto plants owned by GM, Ford and Stellantis, owner of the Chrysler auto brand, remained open and operating.

The Ford Motor Company and the UAW struck a deal Tuesday for a 25 percent increase in the union members pay. It was only marginally higher than the 23 percent offer that had been on the table for weeks and far short of the 40 percent than the union had originally wanted. That’s not to say that 25 percent isn’t a significant increase for those workers but they likely could have had it a weeks ago. The union held out for much more until it was apparent that management wasn’t going to be that generous.

Still, it was a win for new UAW President Shawn Fain, who got what he wanted. He got lots of media coverage of him leading a strike where he got to talk tough and make bold promises. But he did this without actually straining the union’s strike fund too much, because most workers weren’t striking.

The deal with Ford implies that the agreements with GM and Stellantis will likely come sooner rather than later. Historically, UAW has struck a deal first with the member of the Big Three that was the most amenable to union demands and then used that deal as a template for deals with the remaining two. Ford’s 25 percent raise is only marginally higher than what the others were offering. It also removes pressure on the union to demand much higher. UAW has to keep all of its members happy and negotiating better deals with the other companies would alienate the members who work at Ford.

Other details about the deal are still dribbling out. It’s not clear if Ford gave on demands related to the manufacturers’ move to electronic vehicles, such as preventing workers from being shifted to other factories. Looking further down the road, the question is how much this increase in labor costs will impact the manufacturer’s ability to compete with other manufacturers. The Big Three now represent just 40 percent of the domestic car market. Toyota, Volkswagen and other foreign brands have non-union plants in the southern US, and they’ve shown themselves to be much more adaptable.