Environmental groups are lining up on the side of the United Auto Workers against the Big Three — never mind any setbacks for their green energy agenda.

So far, only one of the three plants that union members have walked out on produces an electric vehicle — the Jeep Wrangler 4Xe built at Stellantis’ Toledo, Ohio site — but an expanded strike could threaten production of the cars that President Joe Biden wants to make up 50 percent of all new vehicle sales by 2030. Still, environmental groups are supporting the labor action, saying it’s needed to ensure that factory workers are included in the transition to a clean economy.

“We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment,” a group of 100 labor, racial justice, and environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in an open letter to the heads of Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. “Only through meeting these demands will the United States ensure a just transition to a renewable energy future.”

The green support for the union marks a relatively new development between two Democratic-aligned factions. Environmental groups have broadened their missions in recent years to address a range of social problems, including racial and economic issues, in part as an effort to build broader coalitions to support their campaigns to fight climate change and pollution that disproportionately affects minority communities and low-income areas.

Greenpeace, which helped author the letter, has hosted UAW delegations at its ships in California to show the climate community stands behind the union, said Ben Smith, the environmental group’s campaigner for strategic partnerships. Greenpeace started raising the issue of supporting a strike among other climate groups in August as the union’s contract headed toward renegotiation, he said.

“We have to speed the transition away from fossil fuels,” Smith said. “So implementing this contract as a way to transition to EVs, where those workers see that there are good union jobs, is crucial. And so that’s why the UAW’s fight is our fight.”

Mainstream environmental groups in the 1980s would not have gotten directly involved in labor movement politics, let alone ones that threatened their own environmental priorities, according to people in progressive groups and labor historians. And frequently the two groups have been sharply at odds, as they were over issues such as Biden’s move to block development of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a project that some construction unions had backed.

But green activists have amplified Biden’s policy plank that transitioning to clean energy is good for the economy — and factory workers, according to Mike Williams, a senior fellow at the progressive think tank Center for American Progress who worked for more than a decade at the BlueGreen Alliance, a group the aims to strengthen ties between the labor and environmental movements.

“For the climate movement, which for years have said the words ‘just transition,’ this is the moment where they’re actually putting their words into action,” Williams said. “You can’t have a just transition if you don’t have good jobs on the other side of it.”

UAW President Shawn Fain has repeatedly said the union supports Biden’s electric vehicles push, and he has criticized automakers for closing plants and neglecting job security even as the companies expand production of new models of electric vehicles and opened battery plants.

“The UAW supports and is ready for the transition to a clean auto industry,” Fain said in a recent statement.

Republicans who have sought to slow Biden’s green energy momentum have attempted to exploit the past political differences between the groups. Former President Donald Trump has tried to pit the two groups against each other, saying that the move to electric vehicles would eviscerate the union workforce.

On Friday, populist Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance voiced much the same message, siding with the strikers on social media but also trying to spin the walkout as workers “demanding higher wages and an end to political leadership’s green war on their industry.”

A successful strike could be crucial to making sure working-class Americans stay on board with Biden’s green agenda, said Sharon Block, executive director at Harvard University’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy. Many of the UAW’s current demands are an attempt to claw back wages and benefits its members gave up to help the automakers survive the recession of the late 2000s.

“UAW members were asked to be a partner to the industry when times were bad,” Block said in an interview. “What they’re saying now is that times are pretty good for the industry and they want to share in the success. Why the environmental groups support the strike is [Fain] as head of the organization that is the best way to have a voice in what that energy transition looks like.”

That focus on the long-term success of Biden’s green energy agenda has helped narrow the previous divide between green and labor groups, said Erika Thi Patterson, auto supply chain campaign director for Public Citizen, a group that advocates for progressive environmental and labor policies and helped organize the letter of support. Persuading dozens of other progressive groups to sign was a fairly easy task, Thi Patterson added.

“A lot of people thought it would have taken more convincing to get climate groups on board and showing up in solidarity, but we secured signatures in a rapid succession” for the letter, Thi Patterson said in an interview. “We need workers on our side.”

Industry analysts have warned that a prolonged strike could seriously crimp EV output and even disrupt the post-pandemic economic recovery the United States has been experiencing. Mona Dajani, a lobbyist for Tesla — the leading U.S. EV maker that doesn’t operate any plants employing unionized workers — sounded an alarm on the strike’s impact.

“A UAW strike would put the brakes on the current significant progress that’s being made with the automotive industry, in particular, in clean energy with EVs, with batteries, with all the supply chain to those,” Dajani said. “And it’s not just a labor dispute, I mean, I’m looking at this like it’s a threat, it will put a chill to our energy transition and everything that Biden has really put his legacy on.”

Ford Motor said it had temporarily laid off 600 non-striking workers at its assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, only hours after other employees at the facility had walked off the job early Friday as part of the United Auto Workers' historic strike against the Big Three automakers. 

The labor union launched targeted work stoppages at the plant, along with a General Motors factory in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio, after failing to reach a new labor agreement with the automakers by a Thursday night deadline. 

Ford said in a statement that the layoffs in Wayne are tied to the UAW work stoppage, the first time in the union's history that it has simultaneously launched strikes at all three automakers. 

"This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant's final assembly and paint departments because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection," Ford said in a statement Friday. "E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike."

Wayne, Michigan, with a population of roughly 17,000, is a suburb about 45 minutes west of Detroit consisting mainly of blue-collar and middle-class families. The Ford plant employs about 3,300 workers, most of whom make Bronco SUVs and Ranger pickup trucks. 

UAW President Shawn Fain visited the Wayne plant Friday and said the strike will continue until Ford, GM, and Stellantis (which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM, along with foreign brands such as Peugeot and Open) lift worker wages and improve job security.

UAW union members picket outside the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, on September 15, 2023. MATTHEW HATCHER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Pete Gruich, 56, who has worked at the Wayne factory for 25 years, said working on the assembly line is "hectic, and there's no downtime."

"When somebody takes a day off at final [assembly], it takes two people to do that job, sometimes three, because the jobs are so overloaded," he added.

Gruich said there is a division among employees between those who make higher-tier wages and the ones who earn less. That's because managers tell lower-tier employees that they'll move them to the upper tier once a higher-paid worker has retired, but that rarely happens, he said. 

Tensions were high at the plant for weeks leading up to the strike, Gruich said. On Thursday night, employees represented by UAW's Local 900 got little work done and were eager to see how labor negotiations would play out, he said.  

"We basically just sat the whole night until 10 p.m. when Fain decided to strike half of our plant," he said. 

Gruich said that shortly after Fain chose their union to strike, managers allowed employees to leave their workstations.

"We were held in the cafeteria until midnight [and] then they allowed us to go out," he said. "Nobody was allowed to go back on the floor at that point."

Pete Gruich has been an employee at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, for 25 years. He poses for a picture with UAW President Shawn Fain after Local 900 kicked off a strike against the Big Three Detroit automakers on Friday, September 15, 2023.PETE GRUICH

Once outside, the chants in support of the strike began, said Gruich, who noted that the younger workers were generally more animated, while people with more seniority took in the scene in silence.

Fain hasn't said why UAW leadership chose the Wayne plant to strike. Gruich said he thinks it's because workers at the facility also make parts of seven other plants in the Midwest that produce the Ford Escape, F-250, and F-350 vehicles as well as dashboards for the F-150. The parts manufacturing side of Wayne is still operating, but the union could ask those workers to walk out as well, Gruich said. 

"After like a week or two of Ford not negotiating, they'll end up shutting down the rest of the plant," he predicted. "And that will in turn shut down six or seven other plants."

A strike by U.S. auto workers briefly hit shares of Ford Motor, General Motors, and their suppliers on Friday on worries that the labor action at the factories that make some of the most profitable vehicles could hurt earnings.

The walkouts will halt production at three factories of the "Detroit Three" automakers that make Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler, and Chevrolet Colorado pickup trucks, along with other popular models.

Ford (F.N) and General Motors (GM.N) fell in early trade before reversing course to trade up 1% and 2%, respectively, while U.S.-listed shares of Stellantis were up 1.4% after falling marginally in premarket trading, as hourly workers, represented by United Auto Workers (UAW) union, began their most ambitious U.S. labor protest in decades.

"Wall Street believes this will be a short-lived strike," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said.

The escalation came as talks between the UAW and the Detroit Three are yet to result in an agreement, though executives said talks have made some progress.

"Despite the noise around the strike ... Ford appears closest to getting a deal done in terms of procedure and numbers, GM may not be too far behind, but Stellantis has a long way to go," BofA analysts said.

The UAW chose to walk out at some plants instead of all, giving its hard-charging president Shawn Fain some leverage with talks over the next few days while also limiting the union cost in terms of strike pay, which is paid from an $825 million fund.

About 3,600 UAW members work at the Wentzville, Missouri assembly plant of General Motors, which makes vehicles such as the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Savanna.

"Holding all-else constant (including the potential for other segments to make up lost production volume), a Wentzville strike-through September would negatively impact our GM Q3 estimated EBIT by roughly 2% and Q4 by about 13%," Citi analyst Itay Michaeli wrote in a note.

For Ford, the Michigan plant, that makes the Ford Ranger and Bronco models, Michaeli said, "We estimate a similar monthly impact from the Michigan Assembly strike at about 15,000 units or about $140 million EBIT (holding all else equal)."

The targeted strike can also inflict maximum pain on the automakers given the profitability of SUVs and pickups, Evercore ISI said. But they can boost production to make up for lost sales if the stalemate is short-lived.

The standoff has also become a political issue, with President Joe Biden, facing re-election next year, calling for a deal.

The UAW has not endorsed Biden's re-election. His administration is pouring billions in federal subsidies into expanding sales of electric vehicles, but EVs require fewer jobs.

Since the contract talks began in mid-July, U.S.-listed shares of Stellantis have risen about 2%, while Ford and GM shares have fallen about 17% each.

Automaker shares
Automaker shares

Meanwhile, shares of auto suppliers that supply to one or all of the Detroit Three briefly fell on Friday. American Axle & Manufacturing (AXL.N), Dana Inc (DAN.N), and Adient (ADNT.N) fell about 1% each before recouping losses.

Supplier Magna International (MG.TO) said on Friday it was monitoring the situation and was prepared to temporarily scale back production if needed.

The United Auto Workers strike is starting at three plants that produce a range of popular SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans important to the automakers' bottom lines.

A lengthy strike of four weeks or more could impact production and ultimately delay the goal of the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis (which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM, along with major foreign brands including Citroën, Peugeot, and Maserati) — to ramp up production of electric vehicles, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said in a Friday research report. 

At the moment, the strike is strategically limited to three plants: A Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan; a GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; and a Stellantis assembly complex in Toledo, Ohio. If the strike stretches on, dealer lots that sell existing inventory to customers will be unable to replenish their stock with new vehicles.

"This is going to have an impact, especially when you look at the demand for these vehicles," GM CEO Mary Barra told CBS News on Friday. "We have some in the field and we're going to continue to work to meet customer needs, but this has an impact."

GM Wentzville Assembly

This Missouri plant focuses on midsize trucks and full-size van models and employs 4,100 workers. According to GM, the vehicles built at the plant include:

  • Chevrolet Colorado, a midsize truck that starts at $29,200
  • Chevrolet Express, a van that starts at $33,000
  • GMC Canyon, a midsize pickup that starts at $36,900
  • GMC Savana, a van that starts at $35,000
United Auto Workers Begin Largest National Strike Since 1982
General Motors Assembly Plant in Wentzville, Missouri. Nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers went on strike after their contract expired and the two parties could not come to an agreement.MICHAEL THOMAS / GETTY IMAGES

Barra singled out the disruption to the production of its pickups and the Savana Cargo van as especially problematic. 

"At Wentzville, the line's not moving and we build two, well actually three, very important products there," she noted. "We just launched the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon — these are midsize trucks that are in very, very strong demand."

She added, "They're great vehicles, as well as our [Savana] Cargo band. That's been in strong demand for over a decade."

Ford's plant in Wayne, Michigan

This plant, which employs about 5,100 workers, currently builds the following vehicles, according to Ford:

2023 North American International Auto Show Held In Detroit, Michigan
People drive a Ford Bronco through a maneuverability obstacle at the 2023 North American International Detroit Auto Show. At the moment, the UAW strike is strategically limited to three plants includinh  A Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan.BILL PUGLIANO / GETTY IMAGES
  • The Ford Ranger, a pickup truck that starts at $32,565
  • The Ford Bronco, an SUV that starts at $39,130

Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio

Inside The 2023 New York International Auto Show
Stellantis, which was formed in 2021 in a merger between Fiat Chrysler and European automaker Groupe PSA, owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep (above) and RAM. If the strike stretches on, dealer lots that sell existing inventory to customers will be unable to replenish their stock with new vehicles.STEPHANIE KEITH/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

This plant, which employs about 5,500 workers, makes the following vehicles:

AFTER MEMBERS OF the United Auto Workers walked off the job at midnight, Twitter stripped the union of its account verification without notice, according to a UAW official. The account, as of publication time, lacked verification — but its blue check was restored shortly after the story began circulating widely. Twitter’s verification policy temporarily removes verification from accounts that change profile pictures, which the UAW did in conjunction with the walkout.

A UAW official told The Intercept that the union’s account, which they paid for, was verified until Friday morning when suddenly it wasn’t. The most recent entry for the UAW Twitter account in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, from September 9, confirms that the union was blue check verified. A request for comment from Twitter earned the auto-reply, “Busy now, please check back later.”

Some 13,000 UAW workers are participating in what they’re calling their Stand Up Strike, which will roll out in phases if the so-called Big Three auto manufacturers — Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) — continue to resist workers’ demands. Many of the Big Three’s electric vehicle manufacturers are non-union, a key sticking point in negotiations. 

Following the 2007 and 2008 financial crisis, autoworkers agreed to radical concessions on everything from pensions to wages to health care in order to help Detroit emerge successfully from bankruptcy. The companies have since returned to extraordinary levels of profitability, with CEO pay and company profits climbing by 30 to 40 percent in recent years. UAW workers have demanded similar increases over the next four years, demands the companies have rejected even as they continue stock buybacks intended to pump up the share price and corresponding executive compensation. 

General Motors CEO Mary Barra was expressly asked about the pay disparity in an interview on CNN on Friday morning. 

“You’ve seen a 34 percent pay increase in your salary, you make almost $30 million; why should your workers not get the same type of pay increases that you’re getting leading the company?” asked CNN reporter Vanessa Yurkevich. 

Barra responded to the unusually pointed line of questioning with typical platitudes: “When the company does well, everyone does well.”

The Big Three automakers and the UAW are focused closely on the role organized labor will play in the production of electric vehicles and the batteries needed to power them, as is Elon Musk, the owner of both Twitter and Tesla. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, as a price for his support of Joe Biden’s climate agenda, insisted on stripping a provision that would have tilted the EV production playing field in favor of unionsMusk spoke out against the measure as well. 

Tesla pays significantly lower wages than the Big Three, averaging $45 to $50 per hour versus $64 to $67 per hour, respectively. The company has led a slash-and-burn union-busting campaign in recent months.

In February, Tesla fired at least 18 software employees at a plant in Buffalo, New York, after they announced plans to unionize. Then, in March, a federal appeals court found that Musk violated federal labor law when he tweeted a threat to employees’ stock options should they decide to unionize and that Tesla also broke the law when it fired a worker engaged in union organizing.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” Musk tweeted in 2018. “Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

In April, Tesla suffered another loss, this time in front of the National Labor Relations Board. The agency ruled that the company violated federal labor law when it forbade employees from discussing wages and working conditions.

President Joe Biden on Friday offered support to United Auto Workers union members amid their strike against the Big 3 U.S. automakers.

"I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW," Biden said in brief remarks at the White House. "Let me say it again. Record corporate profits, which they have, should be shared by record contracts for the UAW."

The United Auto Workers or UAW, started a strike early Friday morning against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. Nearly 13,000 workers walked out of three auto plants in Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio.

Biden said he understood the "frustration" of workers who helped keep the industry afloat during the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis.

"Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create for an enterprise," he said.

The strike will be a political test for Biden, who says he's the most pro-union president in history, and his economic agenda heading into 2024.

Economists previously told ABC News a strike could result in billions of dollars in losses, disruption to the supply chain, and other financial consequences.

"It's my hope that the parties can return to the negotiation table to forge a win-win agreement," Biden said Friday.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and auto companies in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Sept. 15, 2023.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and auto companies in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Sept. 15, 2023.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden previously predicted the union would not strike. He told reporters after celebrating workers in a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia that he wasn't "worried about a strike until it happens. I don't think it's going to happen."

Biden spoke with UAW president Shawn Fain and leaders of the auto companies on Thursday to discuss ongoing negotiations hours before the midnight deadline.

But by 10 p.m., Fain said workers were prepared to strike if a deal wasn't reached. Sticking points in negotiations were wage increases and the length of the workweek.

UAW boasts nearly 150,000 members but not all are walking out of the job at once. The union is utilizing a "stand-up" strike method to target specific plants and add to the list if a deal isn't reached.

"This strategy will keep the companies guessing," Fain said. "It will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in bargaining. And if we need to go all out, we will. Everything is on the table."

The president is deploying acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior adviser Gene Sperling to Detroit to offer their support for the parties in reaching an agreement.

"The bottom line is that auto workers who create America's middle class, they deserve a contract that sustains them in the middle class," Biden said.

Thousands of United Auto Workers members are officially on strike after three Detroit automakers failed to reach an agreement with the union, which represents about 146,000 workers at Ford, GM and Stellantis, by a Thursday night deadline, CNBC reports.

One major issue on the table is worker pay. The union proposed 40% hourly pay increases over the next four years. The average U.S. autoworker on a manufacturing production line earns about $28 per hour as of August, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s up $1 from the previous year.

Autoworker pay at “The Big Three” works on a tiered system, which was introduced in the aftermath of the 2008 auto industry crisis, where more recent hires start at lower rates of pay than more tenured workers.

Top-tier workers (those hired in 2007 or earlier) earn an average of $33 per hour, CBS News reports, based on contract summaries for the Big Three. Lower-tier workers (hired after 2007) earn up to $17 an hour.

Nationwide, autoworkers’ average real hourly earnings have fallen 19.3% since 2008, according to research from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, Ford CEO Jim Farley earned $21 million in total compensation last year, the Detroit News reported. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares made $24.8 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. And GM CEO Mary Barra earned nearly $29 million in 2022 pay, Automotive News reported

“Obviously, CEOs should be the highest-paid person in an enterprise, but then the question is exactly just how much higher than everyone else,” Josh Bivens, chief economist at EPI, told NPR.

CEO pay at the Big Three has grown 40% in the last decade, according to EPI — in line with the UAW’s demands for 40% pay increases for autoworkers.

UAW President Shawn Fain said Wednesday Ford has offered a 20% increase over the four years of the deal, followed by GM at 18% and Stellantis at 17.5%. GM raised their offer Thursday to a 20% wage increase.

“I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed,” Barra told CNBC Friday morning. “We don’t need to be on strike right now. We put a historic offer on the table.”

GM CEO Mary Barra on UAW strike: We put a historic offer on the table
GM CEO Mary Barra on UAW strike: We put a historic offer on the table

Profits at the struck auto companies increased 92% from 2013 to 2022, totaling $250 billion, according to EPI. Striking workers say they haven’t shared in their company’s financial success.

President Joe Biden weighed in on negotiations Friday, saying, “Auto companies have seen record profits including the last few years because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of the UAW workers. Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with the workers.”

CEO pay growth outpaces worker wages across industries

The auto industry is just one example of how executive pay has skyrocketed faster than the typical wage growth for everyday workers.

The average CEO at a top U.S. company was paid $27.8 million in 2021, including stock awards — 399 times as much as the typical worker — according to research published by EPI. From 1978 to 2021, CEO pay grew by 1,460%, adjusted for inflation, versus just 18.1% for the typical worker.

The UAW also proposed the elimination of compensation tiers and restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, as well as other workplace protections like a reduced 32-hour workweek, a shift back to traditional pensions, improved retiree and parental leave benefits, and more.

“For the first time in our history, we will strike all three of the ‘Big Three’ at once,” Fain said Thursday in live remarks streamed on Facebook and YouTube. “We are using a new strategy, the ‘stand-up’ strike. We will call on select facilities, locals, or units to stand up and go on strike.”

About 12,700 workers will be on strike at three facilities nationwide, starting at GM’s plant in Wentzville, Missouri; Ford’s plant in Wayne, Michigan; and Stellantis’ plant in Toledo, Ohio.

The targeted strikes aim to bring a work stoppage to key plants that then cause plants further down the line to stop production without needed materials. The strategy is unprecedented: The union may increase the number of strikes based on the status of negotiations.

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