a photo from inside the uaw strike in september as workers demand higher pay and other benefits

Inside the UAW Strike: How It Began and Where It’s Going

In late August, the United Auto Workers (UAW) authorized one of the largest strikes the auto industry has seen in decades. Since the first workers walked out in mid-September, the strike has moved incredibly fast, changing shape and adopting new tactics. To keep you up to date, we’ve assembled this guide to the UAW strike – highlighting some of its biggest moments, examining its turning points, and considering what comes next.

What Led to the UAW Strike?

To understand how the strike is going, it’s important to first learn why UAW workers walked out. The crux of the workers’ argument is that while the automakers are posting record gains – a quarter of a trillion dollars over the last decade, to be specific – wages haven’t reflected rising profits.

According to UAW President Shawn Fain, CEO pay at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis has gone up by 40% in the last four years, while autoworkers have received 6% raises. Depending on seniority, full-time workers at these companies earn between $18 and $32 per hour, rates that haven’t kept pace with the sharp rise in inflation.

UAW’s Demands of the Big Three

In early August, Fain gave the Big Three – General Motors, Stellantis, and Ford Motor Co. – a list of the union’s demands. In a rare move, he also released it to the public. In addition to a 40% raise, the UAW wants automakers to reinstate regular cost-of-living pay increases, a benefit that manufacturers suspended in 2009 during the Great Recession. Other notable demands include:

  • Ending the tiered pay scale
  • Increasing retirees’ pension plans
  • Solidifying the right to strike in the event of plant closures
  • Increasing paid time off and instituting a shorter workweek
  • Making all current temporary employees permanent

Strike Tactics Used by the UAW

What makes this strike so unique is its unorthodox approach. Unlike with previous major auto strikes, UAW employees haven’t all walked out at the same time. In the post-World War II strike of 1945 and 1946, 320,000 UAW members walked out for 113 days. Just 25 years later, 400,000 members walked off assembly lines for 67 days.

Rather than shutting everything down with hundreds of thousands of workers striking at the same time, the UAW changed its plans this time around. It targeted certain plants for limited strikes, directing some workers to stay on the job and keeping the Big Three in the dark about the union’s next moves. That way, the automakers wouldn’t be certain which workers were about to walk off, creating immense and immediate pressure. The UAW also opted to negotiate with the Big Three at once instead of holding separate talks with each company.

As the strike continues, it expands strategically, adding certain kinds of workers to exert new pressure. A targeted approach also allows the UAW to preserve its $825 million strike fund for as long as possible rather than quickly burning through it. By staggering which workers walk out, the union will be able to provide for striking members while continuing to exert pressure on automakers sustainably.

A Brief Timeline of the UAW Strike

As of publication, the UAW strike has been going on for slightly over a month. Below, we’ll run through a few highlights from the employee walkout so far.

UAW Votes To Authorize Strike

On Aug. 25, 97% of the 150,000 UAW members employed at the Big Three voted to authorize a strike. There were strong “yes” votes across all three automakers: 96% among the 46,000 UAW members at General Motors, 95% from over 44,000 Stellantis employees, and more than 98% among the 59,000 UAW-represented workers at Ford.

UAW Blue Cross Blue Shield Workers Walk Out

Earlier in the summer, four local UAW chapters entered into negotiations with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to secure higher pay for union members who provide customer support. Their main goal was to put an end to the tiered pay structure, as well as to stop Blue Cross Blue Shield’s outsourcing of union job classifications. The health insurance company rejected the union’s demands. On Sept. 13, over 1,000 UAW members who work for Blue Cross Blue Shield went on strike.

UAW Strike Officially Begins

The UAW strike began on Sept. 15, which was 21 days after the authorization vote. The union gave the Big Three until 11:59 on Sept. 14 to approve a new contract for workers that incorporated the UAW’s demands, but the automakers didn’t offer any deals. Instead of all 150,000 members walking out at the same time, the strike targeted three plants in the Midwest.

General Motors workers walked out of an assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri. Stellantis workers at an assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, also went on strike. Workers walked off a Ford plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne, the only Michigan factory initially affected by the strike.

President Biden Visits the Picket Line

The strike was given a huge boost by President Joe Biden’s visit to General Motors’ Willow Run Redistribution Center in Belleville, Michigan, on Sept. 26. This was an unprecedented move, as Biden is the first modern president to visit a picket line and show solidarity with striking workers. According to reports, Biden grabbed a bullhorn and encouraged workers to “stick with it.” He continued by saying that because the auto industry was doing “incredibly well,” those who work for automakers “should be doing incredibly well, too.”

The next day, former President Donald Trump traveled to Michigan to make a similar gesture in solidarity with those on strike. He visited Drake Enterprises, a nonunion auto parts supplier in Clinton Township, just northeast of Detroit.

The UAW Strike Expands

On Sept. 29, the UAW expanded its strike to two additional factories in the Midwest. At noon that day, workers at the Ford assembly plant in Chicago and the General Motors Lansing-Delta assembly plant in Delta Township, Michigan, walked off the job. Combined, the two plants employ around 7,000 people, bringing the total number of striking workers to 25,000.

The UAW didn’t expand its strike against Stellantis. Fain explained that the automaker had put forth a compelling offer, prompting the union to hold off on new moves against the company.

Where Does the UAW Strike Stand Now?

On Oct. 5, Fortune Magazine reported that the UAW and carmakers were getting close to a contract agreement, with all three manufacturers presenting offers to the union. Spokespeople for the UAW and both GM and Stellantis did not comment on the specifics of their offers.

Ford, however, did release some details, saying that the company had increased its offer to a 20% pay raise over four years and increased 401(k) contributions. It also gave profit-sharing to temporary employees and raised their hourly wages from $16.67 to $21. Those talks did not result in a deal, and the strike has continued into its fifth week.

Since the strike began, the Big Three have laid off nearly 6,000 workers, citing almost $2.7 billion in losses. None of the automakers has said whether they plan on rehiring furloughed workers when the strike ends.

A map of the U.S. showing locations where UAW members have walked off the job

GM To Include Battery Production in Master Contract

The UAW notched a small victory on Oct. 6 when it announced that General Motors had agreed to include electric vehicle battery production work in its master agreement with the union.

Mack Trucks Joins Strike

UAW members at Mack Trucks voted down a tentative agreement from parent company Volvo Group on Oct. 8. After 73% of UAW members at Mack Trucks voted “no” on the deal, almost 4,000 UAW members in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maryland walked from their jobs. The deal offered by Volvo Group included a 10% wage increase as well as a 19% hike in general wages over the next five years. It also guaranteed that health insurance premiums would be frozen for the duration of the contract.

The UAW members at Mack Trucks had Fain’s support, who signed a letter saying that, “The members have spoken and as the highest authority in our union, they have the final word.”

The UAW Strike Expands Again

On Oct. 11, 8,700 UAW workers walked out of a Ford assembly plant in Louisville, Kentucky. The surprise move shut down what is both Ford’s largest factory and one of its most profitable. It’s where the automaker builds Ford Super Duty pickup trucks, Ford Expedition SUVs, and Lincoln Navigator SUVs – some of the company’s most lucrative products.

A statement from Fain reads, “We have been crystal clear, and we have waited long enough, but Ford has not gotten the message. It’s time for a fair contract at Ford and the rest of the Big Three. If they can’t understand that after four weeks, the 8,700 workers shutting down this extremely profitable plant will help them understand it.” Fain also hinted at further strike expansion that could target Stellantis if talks with the carmaker collapse.

Ford called the move “grossly irresponsible,” saying that the action could have a ripple effect that threatens other plants and parts suppliers.

An Appeal To Make a Deal 

Ford issued an appeal to the UAW on Oct. 16, asking the union to come to the table and end the strike as soon as possible. The Anderson Economic Group, a conservative economic consulting firm based in East Lansing, Michigan, estimated that through Oct. 12, the UAW strike had cost the auto industry $7.7 billion.

Another Strike Expansion

As talks with Stellantis faltered, the UAW once again expanded its strike, this time targeting a plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Nearly 7,000 workers walked out of the plant, which manufactures Ram 1500 trucks – Stellantis’ bestselling vehicle, on Oct. 28. This brought the total number of striking workers to over 40,000.

Update: The Strike Ends

On Oct. 30, two days after expanding the strike by another 6,800 workers, the UAW announced it had reached a tentative agreement with GM, ending the union’s six-week strike. Once ratified, most workers will see an immediate pay increase, with some wages jumping by almost 90%.

The GM Agreement

Though it still needs to be ratified by the union, the tentative agreement with GM includes:

  • A 25% increase in base wages through April 2028
  • Removal of employees from the two-tier wage structure
  • GM will make five payments of $500 to current retirees and surviving spouses
  • Reinstatement of cost-of-living allowances and three-year wage progression benefits
  • Brings employees from GM Subsystems and Ultium Cells into the national UAW contract

The Stellantis Agreement

The UAW reached a tentative agreement with Stellantis on the 44th day of the strike. The tentative deal includes:

  • A 25% increase in base wages through April 2028
  • Reinstatement of cost-of-living allowances and three-year wage progression benefits
  • Removal of the wage-tier system
  • A right to strike over plant closures
  • A right to strike over product and investment commitments

Stellantis employees have agreed to return to work during the ratification process.

The Ford Agreement

The members of Union Local 900, headquartered in Wayne, Michigan, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the UAW’s deal with Ford. The local union, which represents workers at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, was the first to walk off the job on Sept. 15. Eighty-two percent of the local’s members voted to accept the deal.

The UAW’s agreement with Ford includes:

  • A 25% increase in base wages through April 2028
  • Reinstatement of cost-of-living allowances and three-year wage progression benefits
  • Removal of the wage-tier system
  • A right to strike over plant closures

What’s Next for the UAW?

Other automakers have taken notice of the strike. As UAW workers enter into the ratification process for the deals struck with the Big Three automakers, the union has an eye on expansion. The UAW organizing committee has plans to talk to workers at Toyota, Volkswagen, Tesla, and Honda. Toyota, whose workers are not unionized, voluntarily raised wages for its factory workers in Alabama and Kentucky.