Although the United Auto Workers framed itswith Detroit’s Big 3 automakers as a huge win for labor, a growing number of union members seem to think otherwise.
Rank-and-file GM workers from 11 different UAW chapters have rejected the automaker’s proposal in recent days, according to a vote tracker maintained by the UAW. Members from another three chapters have rejected Ford’s proposed labor contract, while two have voted no on the Stellantis deal.
The flurry of rejections came after UAW members spent six weeks on. It’s typical for large unions to see a few chapters oppose a new contract because labor deals cannot satisfy everyone, labor experts told CBS MoneyWatch. UAW members at Mack Truck rejected the company’s tentative agreement last month and have remained off the job. In 2021, UAW members at John Deere also voted no on a proposed labor deal.
Union leaders said last month they reached an agreement with the Big 3 that increases wages across a four-and-a-half year deal and provides cost of living adjustments. The deals also eliminate the two-tier system at a handful of Big 3 plants, but not all of them. The tentative agreements are making their way across UAW chapters, where members must vote to approve them. So far, most chapters have given the deals a thumbs up.
In general, some opposition to a proposed labor contract indicates that members are engaged and that there’s healthy debate about the offer, said Rebecca Kolins Givan, a labor relations expert and professor at Rutgers.
But what’s happening with the Big 3 is slightly different. Autoworkers who voted no are likely pushing for better retiree health care benefits and a defined benefits pension plan, Givan said.
Autoworkers are also rejecting those the agreements because they still have an issue with the automakers’ two-tier wage system, said Lynne Vincent, a business management professor at Syracuse University.
“The tier system was a concern for union members from the start, and many of them still want tiers to be shed,” Vincent said.
The UAW declined to comment on chapters that have rejected the tentative agreements. UAW President Shawn Fain said during a video address last week that the labor group had squeezed every penny it could out of the automakers.
“What happens next is not up to us — it’s up to you, the membership,” Fain said. “I don’t decide your vote. The executive board doesn’t decide your vote. Your local leadership doesn’t decide your vote. You decide.”
Still, UAW chapters in Flint, Michigan; Marion, Indiana; Spring Hill, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Portland, Oregon; and Tonawanda, New York, are among those that have voted the deals down.
To be clear, the Ford and Stellantis agreements are not at rising of crumbling just yet because only a few chapters have voted no, Givan noted. The GM contract has generated the most opposition but it, too, could pass as is, she said.
However, if a majority of unionized autoworkers decide to reject the Big 3’s proposals, the union could decide to restart the strike or return to the bargaining table and ask for more concessions.
“Voting is still underway, but this is not a clean sweep,” Vincent said. “It also is possible that the contract will be approved at one automaker but not at the other automakers.”