In the third week of the UAW strike against the Detroit 3, the tone of the rhetoric does not indicate that a resolution is closer than it was a week ago.
Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley accused UAW President Shawn Fain of holding the automakers "hostage" over issues related to electric vehicle battery plants, such as the one in Michigan that Ford stopped building last week. Fain, in return, said Farley was "lying about the state of negotiations" and blamed Ford for holding up talks.
Later on Friday, GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement: "It's clear that there is no real intent to get to an agreement."
There was a sign of progress at Stellantis as the company and the union exchanged counteroffers just ahead of Fain's weekly strike-expansion announcement. As a result, while UAW members remained on strike at Toledo Jeep and the company's parts depots, the union didn't stop work at another Stellantis assembly plant, such as one of the Detroit sites where members make Jeep Grand Cherokees and other vehicles.
Although the UAW quietly dropped its unfair labor practices allegations against GM and Stellantis, the sides remain far apart. The finger-pointing about who wasn't bargaining enough went to a new level when Farley groused that Fain was on TV more than a popular red-shirted character from insurance commercials.
As the strike spreads to more assembly plants, the impact on the supply base is growing, even if it's hard to see clearly. Some of the smaller companies have been propped up by their larger customers, John Irwin reports, but firms and associations are asking the Biden administration to provide financing to keep the companies afloat. They argue that they won't be able to meet the industry's pent-up demand if they go out of business or even if they lay off workers who then take jobs elsewhere.
I can buy that. But I part ways when they also say they need funding to help them transition to supplying EVs. That's a different kind of existential problem: one that is more strategic in nature and is best left to capital markets.
It's now been more than a week since the UAW struck the U.S. replacement parts distribution centers of GM and Stellantis. That timeline is important because in 2019 it took only about a week into the UAW's strike against GM for dealers to come bumping up against parts shortages. This year, it seems that more dealers had stocked up in preparation for a strike — almost like they would for a natural disaster. Our editorial board said that's the best way for them to try to ride out this conflict, led by the man that Bloomberg News dubbed "Hurricane Fain."
Perhaps it's that natural disaster vibe that attracted the president of the United States and his predecessor to southeast Michigan last week.
After President Joe Biden addressed UAW members picketing a General Motors parts facility in metro Detroit on Sept. 26, former President Donald Trump on Sept. 27 gave a speech at a nonunion internal combustion engine parts supplier in the area. He also amped up the insults, calling GM and Ford "stupid or ... gutless" for their embrace of electric vehicles. As for the current president, his appearance was widely seen as emboldening Fain and the UAW.
While the president has long put himself on the side of unions, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell — exhausted from round-the-clock efforts to avoid a government shutdown that was finally averted late Sept. 30 — stressed to me on Sept. 29's Daily Drive podcast that the UAW negotiations are not about presidential politics; they are about the union members and their families and the companies that operate in Michigan's 6th District and across the country.
Alas, all of those constituents and other stakeholders are going to have to hang in there a little longer — if not months longer — until tempers calm and deals can be reached.
Jaime Butters is the executive editor of Automotive News.