As the United Auto Workers widened its strike Friday against two of Detroit's automakers, union President Shawn Fain insisted "talks have not broke down" as the expanding work stoppage moves into its third week — unnerving suppliers and business leaders worried about longer-term damage and prompting angry words from the CEOs of both companies.
Key differences remain on wages, job security and retiree benefits, and Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley raised another after workers walked out at the automaker's Chicago Assembly plant and General Motors Co.'s Lansing Delta Assembly plant in Michigan: the union, he said, is blocking a possible settlement by demanding that employees in the company's four planned battery plants be included in the Ford-UAW master agreement.
"What’s really frustrating is that I believe we could reach the compromise on pay and benefits," Farley said in a news conference, "but so far the UAW is holding the deal hostage over battery plants."
The Ford CEO's comments mark the first time since the strike began Sept. 15 that the union or any of the Detroit Three automakers have publicly mentioned the battery plants in connection with the ongoing contract talks.
They also come days after Ford said it was pausing construction of its planned $3.5 billion battery plant in Marshall, Michigan. Farley said Friday the automaker is reevaluating the project's scope based primarily on labor costs, the final language of the Inflation Reduction Act, and how the next contract with the UAW affects the company's ability to invest in the products that would be supplied by the plant.
"Keep in mind, these battery plants don’t exist yet," Farley said. They’re mostly joint ventures. And they have not been organized by the UAW yet because the workers haven’t been hired, and won’t be for many years to come."
In response, Fain said in a statement that the Ford CEO should "know that we are far apart on core economic proposals like retirement security and post-retirement healthcare, as well as job security in this EV transition, which Farley himself says is going to cut 40 percent of our members’ jobs."
GM CEO Mary Barra, in a statement issued early Friday evening, slammed the union's approach to the talks and its decision to send more workers out.
"As we saw this week, UAW leadership continues to expand the strike while upping the rhetoric and the theatrics," she said. "It’s clear that there is no real intent to get to an agreement."
The union's latest expansion of its unprecedented strike against all three Detroit automakers bring the number of autoworkers on the picket lines to 25,300, out of 146,000 UAW members at the companies, and targets profitable SUVs made at both plants. Lansing Delta Assembly makes Chevrolet Traverses and Buick Enclaves, while Chicago Assembly produces Ford Explorers, Police Interceptors and Lincoln Aviators.
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