UAW strike Day 4: GM threatens to send 2,000 workers home, Ford cuts 600 jobs


United Auto Workers is officially on strike. Negotiations failed this week between the union and the Big Three auto companies — Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (a multinational conglomerate that includes Chrysler).

The current strikes are targeted in three locations:

  • Ford: Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich.

  • Stellantis: Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio

  • GM: Wentzville Assembly Plant in Wentzville, Mo.

Other plants may follow at any time. It’s a strategy that UAW President Shawn Fain calls a “Stand-Up Strike,” he said during a Facebook Live stream on Sept. 13.

Each of the Big Three has proposed pay raises nowhere near what UAW is aiming for. Fain said the companies are also unwilling to bend to UAW’s request for increased pension and retiree health care.

The UAW represents nearly 150,000 workers. The union joins other major strikes sweeping the U.S., including Hollywood actors with SAG-AFTRA and film and TV writers with the WGA.

To get a personal perspective on the UAW strike, NerdWallet spoke with Nick Livick, a third-generation UAW member who works at General Motors’ Fairfax Assembly & Stamping in Kansas City, Kansas. He has worked at the plant since 2012 and is a pool worker, which means he is expected to walk onto any job and learn it quickly. We spoke about why U.S. auto manufacturing workers are demanding improved working conditions, higher pay, and better benefits.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NerdWallet: You're a third-generation UAW member. Can you share some of your family's background with the union?

Nick Livick: My grandfather started at the [American Motors Corp.] in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the early '60s. After that plant closed, he got hired at General Motors in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was able to move his family because of the wage that the UAW had negotiated.

My mother got hired in 1996. I was still young and I can remember this moment when things started changing. You weren’t using so many hand-me-downs; you got to buy your own set of clothes. You weren’t using a notebook from last year; you got new school supplies.

When I got hired as a temp, my wage started out at $15. More than a decade after I got hired the starting wage hasn’t changed much. It was a lot easier in 2012 to make that wage and live.

I know if we go out on strike, I'm going to lose money. But I never think about it like that because it's about the worker that's coming in after me so that they can have a better shot at their working life than I got.
Nick Livickthird-generation UAW worker in Kansas City, Kansas.

These jobs were gold standard jobs, but then during the Great Recession, when Janesville closed, we were forced to take a lot of concessions from the government-mandated bailout. And we were promised that we’d get these back as soon as we got profitable again. We gave up a lot and we did it because we wanted these companies to succeed. There’s a lot of pride in where we work and we put a lot of pride into the work to make sure it’s a quality vehicle. But those benefits never came back. There’s no retiree health care, no pensions, we get less sub pay and we get even less vacation time.

NerdWallet: Can you explain more about why the UAW is striking?

Nick Livick: At the end of the day, it comes down to simple respect. A lot of the benefits that we're currently fighting for we already had and we gave up for the company to save them from their mismanagement.

They have temps that work up to two years before they get hired full-time. During the pandemic, you saw temps that were getting close to their two years, and then all of a sudden none of us were working. When layoffs happened, temps started the clock over.

There’s an eight-year earning scale even after you’ve been a temp for up to two years. So you’re talking about a third of your working career where they’re expecting you to save for your own retirement. It’s just impossible.

You also have the tiered work system where I could be working next to somebody doing the same job who is not getting the same pay or the same benefits. Conditions are just getting worse.

They can hardly find anyone to come into work because starting wages are only $16.67. You can go down to my local QuikTrip and get paid $19 an hour. Who’s going to do a rough, tough job like assembly work when they could be working somewhere else for more money? Long-term benefits are what tie people to the plant.

Then, you look at the work schedule. At Stellantis, they went on a 90-day critical status leading up to contract negotiations where they’re forced to work 90 days straight. You’re working seven days a week, 12-hour shifts and can only take one day off a month. It’s just insane.

There are days when I wake up when both of my hands are numb because of the work and I just can't feel them. And there's nothing I can do other than stretch it out or shake it. When you’re working insane hours, you have no time to recover.

These jobs are tough. You’re lucky if your facility is climate-controlled, but even then, it’s not true air conditioning so it’s still going to be 80 or 90 degrees in the plant. And if you’re not climate-controlled then if it’s 110 outside, it’s going to be hotter than 110 in the factory.

We need these benefits for when we retire because our bodies are going to be broken.
Nick Livickthird-generation UAW worker in Kansas City, Kansas.

We're fighting to get back to a basic standard of living. And not only that but to save these jobs for the next generation. I know if we go out on strike, I'm going to lose money. But I never think about it like that because it's about the worker that's coming in after me so that they can have a better shot at their working life than I got.

NerdWallet: Tell me about some of the demands that the UAW is making.

Nick Livick: We want to end the payment tiers. Like I said, you got people working for different wages, and different benefits right next to each other. It's a way that management uses to divide workers. I mean, ‘equal pay for equal work’ — I think any worker can really latch on to that and agree with it.

Retirees haven't gotten an increase in over a decade. They’re being killed by inflation. We need to get cost-of-living adjustments — COLA — back because we've seen what happens as inflation erodes wages. It's not uncommon for an auto worker to have knee surgeries, elbow surgery, hand surgery, wrist surgery, and back surgery. We need these benefits for when we retire because our bodies are going to be broken.

It’s incredibly physically demanding work and it never stops. At an office, you know, you can kind of get up and stretch your legs, walk around, go to the bathroom, stop and talk to someone if you're feeling a little bit even mentally exhausted. But on the assembly line, it never stops coming. You've always got to do the next job.

There’s one demand that’s a little bit more 'audacious,' as Shawn [Fain] says, and it’s the 32-hour workweek for 40 hours of pay. It comes from the sheer amount of insane hours that we’re working. As we transition to [electric vehicles], it's going to take less manpower. With all this increased productivity, workers should be allowed to experience their lives outside of work. Right now, if you're working 90 days in a row, seven days a week and 12-hour days, you have no standard of living.

NerdWallet: Is there anything else that you think is important for people to understand about this strike?

Nick Livick: That we are fighting for more than just us. It's about the economic system in this country. Everything that organized labor wins reverberates through the entire economy. So it's not just our fight. It's everybody's fight.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain has been in that office less than six months, and already he has launched a series of targeted strikes at factories owned by General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. The current UAW contract with the domestic car companies expired at midnight, and that's when workers at three plants walked off the job.

The strikes aren't a surprise. Fain has taken a far more militant tone with management than his predecessors going back decades. He says it's the only way to ensure that workers get their fair share as car companies continue to enjoy huge profits.

An autoworker outside the Ford Michigan Truck plant shows a pin on his fluorescent yellow and orange vest reading "I don't want to strike but I will" on the first day of contract talks for the UAW with major U.S. automakers on July 19.

Don Gonyea/NPR

The UAW leader has a long history with the automobile industry. Fain often talks about his family members who began working in car plants in the earliest days of the United Auto Workers union: one of his grandfathers was hired by Chrysler in 1937 — that's the year the UAW was officially recognized. Fain carries around one of his grandfather's old pay stubs in his wallet.

"My grandparents were part of the millions of families who moved to the Midwest to work for auto companies and seek out a better life," Fain recalled. "Like my grandfather's pay stub that I carry with me every day, I'm proud to have inherited my grandmother's Bible and her faith."

That reference to faith is evident in Fain's rhetoric around the UAW, its power, and this strike.

He explained this week that he finds a lot to relate to in biblical stories of using faith to stand up to fear — something he is encouraging his membership to do now.

Started at the bottom

To say Shawn Fain is an unlikely UAW president is an extreme understatement.

Recognizing that workers needed a voice, he got involved in the union on the local level in Kokomo, Ind.

"He's an electrician. He served an apprenticeship and he became shop chair in the Chrysler Kokomo foundry. That's among the most demanding jobs in the union in that you're dealing with grievances and issues on the shop floor all the time," Harley Shaiken explained. Shaiken is a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor organizing.

Eventually, Fain left Kokomo for a staff job at UAW headquarters in Detroit — at Solidarity House — helping those union officials who actually negotiated the national contracts.

But Fain was frustrated by the way the union's top leadership dealt with corporate management. Yes, the early 2000s brought hard times for the industry with the financial crisis and bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, but Fain felt the union was giving up too much too many concessions. That included the tiered wage system where new hires were paid significantly less. Originally implemented in the economic downturn of 2007, it persists today.

He wasn't alone in his views, but such dissent gained no traction in those days. Many workers were just happy to have a job. At the time, the UAW, after decades of major wins, rolled back its requests of the automakers to try to sustain the industry at a time of great upheaval.

Corruption at the top

Then came a bombshell that would change everything again: a major corruption scheme involving many of those leaders Fain was at odds with.

After a four-year FBI investigation into corruption in the UAW, it found embezzlement of union dues and other offenses that ultimately sent two former UAW presidents to prison. A dozen other union officials were also convicted.

A federal monitor was named to oversee union operations, and as part of a consent decree, the UAW was forced to change how it elected its leadership. Instead of delegates and other union officials picking the top brass, the membership would directly vote for top officers. That left an opening for union reformers.

And in that first-ever direct election by the membership, Shawn Fain declared his candidacy.

One worker, one vote, one president

UAW President Shawn Fain talks with reporters before marching in the Detroit Labor Day Parade on Sept. 4.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

He ran on a platform to end corruption, to win back what the union had given up in concessions 15 years ago, and to end those multi-tier pay rates. He wears T-shirts with "End Tiers" printed on the front to rallies. And he promised then that he was ready to use strikes to achieve those goals.

Fain won the election. But at the start of the campaign, he was a longshot at best. Even union experts did not notice his candidacy.

"Even though this was to be the first direct election of officers of the UAW in the history of the union, he seemed to have little chance of making it," Shaiken, the union expert, recalled.

But Fain worked hard, reaching out to members directly, and found there was an appetite for a progressive message. He believed people wanted to hear from a candidate who would hold corporate feet to the fire and one who would demand that politicians who win union endorsements actually fight for causes important to unions.

He visited local union halls and stood outside plant gates. He held campaign events on Facebook Live where he'd take questions from members who logged in for up to two hours at a time.

He started to gain momentum. And on the first ballot, he made it into a two-candidate runoff. On that second and final ballot, he won by the narrowest of margins, just 477 votes.

Fain was sworn in at a convention in Detroit in April. He made it clear the message of his campaign would be the same under his UAW presidency.

"Now we're here to come together to ready ourselves for the war against our only one and only true enemy, multibillion-dollar corporations and employers that refuse to give our members their fair share," Fain said at that April convention.

If rhetoric like that makes some people uncomfortable, Fain says so be it. His approach, past and present, is to leave no doubt about what he sees as the union's role: to be the voice and the advocate for its members.

He continues to use Facebook Live to directly reach members of the union, including recent sessions where he displayed a trash can full of automaker proposals in contract talks.

That's a message he takes out on the road too: He's done it at plant gates and union halls. And, appropriately, he stood in front of a crowd at a rally in Detroit on Labor Day and promised to stand tough.

"The UAW is back in the fight and we are ready to stand united to win economic and social justice," Fain said. "And I got a question for all of you. Are you ready to rumble?"

Republicans are testing whether they can widen the Democratic Party rift exposed by the United Auto Workers strike as they try to reclaim the Senate and the White House.

The GOP sees the UAW walkout as a potential lifeline in Michigan, where politically weakened Republicans are now plotting how best to seize on a tension point between Democrats’ clean-energy agenda and their pro-labor roots. President Joe Biden is pressing for more electric vehicles to achieve his climate goals, but workers who produce parts like batteries for those cars are often non-union and make less money.

“What do you expect would happen when you push policies that will kill off people’s jobs?” said Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.). “Putting climate change policies over people is absolutely ridiculous, and we cannot stand for it.”

Democrats dominated in statewide races in recent cycles, with Biden winning in 2020 and Democrats retaking the state legislature and governor’s mansion. The Republican Party is largely in shambles there, and the national party hasn’t won a Senate seat in Michigan since 1994. But now, they see a potential opening.

It’s too early to know how long the strike might drag on, but the walkout has added building pressure on Biden to work with both sides to reach a deal before 150,000 union members across several other states take similar action, spurring major economic consequences.

In the coming days and weeks, Republican campaigns and national party leaders will be monitoring the state-of-play and polling as they determine just how much to lean into attacks on Democrats’ clean energy agenda, but also against the president, who is being accused of not having done enough to avoid the standoff.

That said, it’s hardly a clear or easy line of attack for Republicans, who aren’t explicitly supporting the union.

Former President Donald Trump is jockeying for a UAW endorsement for his 2024 White House bid. Trump, who according to the Detroit News is weighing a trip to Michigan, urged the union to place “the complete and total repeal of Joe Biden’s insane Electric Vehicle mandate” at the top of their list of demands. His former vice president, 2024 hopeful Mike Pence, hit a similar note on Sunday.

“I also think that this green agenda that is using taxpayer dollars to drive our automotive economy into electric vehicles is understandably causing great anxiety among UAW members,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Other Republicans followed suit, with a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson calling out Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin — Democrats’ favored candidate for the state’s open Senate seat — for her Thursday vote allowing state-level limits or bans on gas-powered cars as choosing her “party over Michigan.”

Among the Michigan GOP politicians who sounded off in support of the strike are several members of the congressional delegation, one top Senate candidate, and another likely Senate contender who was a former UAW member himself.

“One thing that the strike might be able to do is highlight the conflict that it’s creating with working-class Americans, and that might end up being very beneficial to Republicans,” said Saul Anuzis, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. “As Rahm Emanuel used to say, ‘I’ll never let a crisis go to waste.’ This might be that crisis that takes a lot of blue-collar, working-class Americans to sit there and say, ‘We’re getting shafted by these left-wing policies that are really not very practical.’”

The resounding response is emblematic of a shift in the Republican Party cultivated under Trump. In a GOP that has been traditionally less friendly to unions, many Republicans see the UAW strike as an opening to continue the work Trump began in 2016 to position their party for a play at these blue-collar workers in 2024.

Though Republicans might often clash with union leaders, Trump’s economic message in 2016 resonated with an unusually large number of rank-and-file union voters, helping him capture the industrial midwest. In turn, his support bolstered Republicans in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

“I mean, you look at Macomb County, which is the home to Reagan Democrat. All these union workers in 2016 weren’t satisfied with Democratic policies, and they put Trump into office. And if Democrats both statewide, but more importantly nationally, don’t respond to this strike and respond to the UAW’s demands sufficiently, it may come to bite them,” said Michigan Republican Jason Watts, who was removed from his post as a local party treasurer in Michigan after publicly breaking with Trump in 2021.

Michigan will be a battleground up and down the ballot in 2024. With an open Senate seat, several competitive House seats, and a contested presidential contest, many ambitious Republicans moved quickly to weigh in on the side of the auto workers.

“UAW workers get up early every morning and work hard for a living — that’s the Michigan way. Meanwhile, coastal elites in the Biden Administration wake up and go to the couch where they’ll work from home,” said Rep. John James (R-Mich.), who won his seat in 2022 by less than 2,000 votes, in a statement.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s retirement gives Republicans a chance to win a Senate race for the first time since 1994. But Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020, is not among the GOP’s top targets.

“Autoworkers are crucial to our economy and after years of concessions, they deserve a fair deal,” said former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who just launched a Senate campaign.

Another potential Senate contender for the Republican nomination is former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who worked at a Chrysler plant as his first job out of high school and also released a statement slamming Biden’s electric vehicle push.

In an interview, Craig said the strike makes him more likely to run for the open Senate seat and that Republicans needed to shift away from anti-union stances.

“Some get it, some don’t,” he said. “You get some of the old establishment Republicans who have always done it a certain way and who are resistant to change.”

“I will be a candidate for the workers because I am a worker,” he said.

The issue does not mean that Republicans are suddenly the party of labor. The Chamber of Commerce, which historically has sided with Republicans, slammed the Biden administration policies as “unionization at all costs” for the strike.

Though Trump has made overtures to union members, union leadership is still closely aligned with the Democratic party, and Republicans notably aren’t discussing wages or cost of living in their statements, issues of utmost importance to union members.

Watts said that the party’s outreach to “Trump Democrat union folk, is on a precarious edge.”

“You can’t push it too much,” he said. “But we’ll always take a shot at converting or bringing those union members to the tent.”

It’s been a central argument for the United Auto Workers union: If Detroit’s three automakers raised CEO pay by 40% over the past four years, workers should get similar raises.

UAW President Shawn Fain has repeatedly cited the figure, contrasting it with the 6% pay raises autoworkers have received since their last contract in 2019. He opened negotiations with a demand for a similar 40% wage increase over four years, along with the return of pensions and cost of living increases. The UAW has since lowered its demand to a 36% wage increase but the two sides remain far apart in contract talks, triggering a strike.

Fain’s focus on CEO pay is part of a growing trend of emboldened labor unions citing the wealth gap between workers and the top bosses to bolster demand for better pay and working conditions. In June, Netflix shareholders rejected executive pay packages in a nonbinding vote, just days after the Writers Guild of America wrote letters urging investors to vote against the pay proposals, saying it would be inappropriate amid Hollywood’s ongoing strike by writers. The WGA wrote similar letters targeting the executive pay at Comcast and NBCUniversal.

Fain has pushed back against arguments that a big pay bump for the union would jack up the costs of vehicles and put the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) — at a disadvantage against foreign competitors with lower-cost workforces in the race to transition to electric vehicles.

“The reason we ask for 40% pay increases is because in the last four years alone, the CEO pay went up 40%. They’re already millionaires,” Fain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Our demands are just. We’re asking for our fair share in this economy and the fruits of our labor.”

CEO pay has ballooned for decades, while wages for ordinary workers have lagged. But did the Big Three chief executives really get 40% pay increases? Not exactly.

“I don’t know where the 40% came from,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra at a news conference when asked if the UAW’s numbers were accurate.

Executive pay is notoriously complicated to calculate because so much of it comes in the form of stock grants or stock options. A detailed look at the compensation packages at all three companies shows how the UAW’s claim both overstates and understates reality, depending on the view.


Barra, the only one of the three who held the role since 2019, is the highest paid, with a compensation package of worth $28.98 million in 2022. The single biggest component was $14.62 million in stock grants, which vest over three years and whose ultimate value depends on stock performance and other metrics.

Her pay has increased 34% since 2019, according to data from public filings analyzed for AP by Equilar.

Ford CEO James Farley received nearly $21 million in total compensation in 2022, a 21% increase over the $17.4 million then-CEO Jim Hackett received in 2019, according to the company’s proxy statements. Farley’s package last year included $15.14 million in stock awards, which also vest over three years with an ultimate value dependent on performance.

Where the comparison gets complicated is at Stellantis, which was formed in 2021 with the merger of Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and French PSA Group. Because it is a European company, the way Stellantis discloses executive pay differs significantly from GM and Ford.

In its annual remuneration report, Stellantis reported CEO Carlos Tavares’ 2022 pay was 23.46 million euros. That’s a nearly 77% increase over Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley’s 2019 pay of 13.28 million euros.

Those are the numbers used by the UAW when it calculated that three automakers have, collectively, increased CEO pay by 40.1% since 2019, according to the methodology the union provided to The AP.

But there’s a catch: Stellantis’ figures reflect “realized pay,” which includes the value of previously granted equity that vested during the reporting year. U.S. companies, in contrast, use the grant date value of stock packages awarded to executives during the reporting year.

In its analysis, Equilar used the “grant date” method to make an equivalent comparison between all three CEOs. By that measure, Tavares’ 2022 compensation was 21.95 million euros in 2022, including 10.9 million in stock awards with a three-year vesting period.

That’s actually a 24% decline from Manley’s compensation package in 2019, which was 29.04 million euros, according to Equilar.


So, is Tavares really making less than Manley was four years ago? Not really.

That’s because in some years, talking about a CEO’s “realized pay” can obscure exorbitant pay packages approved by company boards.

Take Tavares’ 2021 compensation package, which included a special incentive award of 25 million euros in cash as well as a stock worth 19.56 million euros — all contingent on long-term performance goals — granted to Tavares in recognition of “his essential role” in leading the company through the merger.

That one-time award, which came on top of millions more in regular compensation, alone pushed Tavares’ 2021 compensation package far above what Manley got in 2019.

Stellantis shareholders voted 52.1% to reject the pay proposal in their annual meeting, though the vote was only advisory and the board approved his package anyway.

The CEOs of GM and Ford also saw their compensation packages peak in 2021, before declining slightly in 2022.


However you slice the numbers, the gap between CEO pay and rank-and-file workers at all three companies is gigantic.

At GM, the median worker pay was $80,034 in 2022. It would take that worker 362 years to make Barra’s annual compensation.

At Ford, where the median pay was $74, 691, it would take 281 years.

At Stellantis, with a median pay of 64,328 euros, it would take 365 years, although the company noted in its annual report that the disparity includes expenses related to Tavares’ one-time grant. Excluding that, the pay ratio is 298-1.

How extreme is that disparity? It depends on the comparison.

It’s far above the typical pay gap at S&P 500 companies, which was 186-1 according to AP’s annual CEO pay survey, which uses data analyzed by Equilar.

And it’s astronomical by historical standards. According to a study of the 350 largest publicly traded U.S. firms by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the CEO-to-Worker pay ratio was just 15-1 in 1965.

The automakers, for their part, emphasize that their foreign competitors pay their workers much less. Including benefits, workers at the Detroit 3 automakers receive around $60 an hour, according to Harry Katz, a labor professor at Cornell University. At foreign-based automakers with U.S. factories, the compensation is about $40 to $45.

Then there’s Tesla.

CEO Elon Musk’s 2022 compensation was reported as zero in the company’s proxy statement, rendering its official pay ratio meaningless. Of course, that’s because Tesla hasn’t awarded Musk new packages since a 2018 long-term compensation plan that could potentially be worth more than $50 billion and is facing a legal challenge from shareholders.

But the proxy offers a glimpse at the mind-boggling wealth disparity between its nonunion workers and one of the world’s richest men.

The filing reported Musk’s total “realized compensation” in 2021 at more than $737 million. A typical Tesla worker earned $40,723 that year.

According to the proxy, for that worker to make Musk’s “realized compensation” that year, it would take more than 18,000 years.

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