UAW’s Targeted Strikes and Potential Lockouts
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union is gearing up for a series of targeted strikes against major Detroit automakers – Ford Motor, General Motors, and Stellantis – if new agreements are not reached by the deadline of 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday. UAW President Shawn Fain has described these plans as “historic,” but they come with potential risks, including the possibility of company lockouts.
Historic Targeted Strikes
These targeted strikes, also known as bottleneck strikes, differ from nationwide actions. Instead of all factories shutting down simultaneously, select plants are strategically chosen. The goal is to disrupt production by impacting key facilities, causing a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. While such strikes are not entirely unprecedented, the approach outlined by President Fain includes initiating targeted strikes at specific plants and then potentially expanding them based on the ongoing negotiations.
Fain has referred to this strategy as a “stand-up strike,” harking back to the UAW’s historic “sit-down” strikes of the 1930s. However, while these strikes may be considered “historic,” their consequences remain uncertain.
One concern is how a strike at one plant might affect others. Additionally, non-striking union members could potentially find themselves facing unemployment if their state permits them to collect benefits due to work stoppages.
Potential for Lockouts
These targeted strikes may also make it easier for companies to hire permanent replacement workers and, more critically, conduct plant lockouts. Labor experts suggest that while this strategy puts pressure on the companies, it also provides them with greater leverage to employ such tactics.
Complexities and Considerations
Plant lockouts, where companies deny access to workers, are relatively more common in other parts of the world than in the United States. However, they have occurred, such as the 10-month lockout of Exxon Mobil workers in Texas that concluded last year.
Automakers have a vested interest in maintaining production amid strikes, particularly given recent challenges posed by supply chain disruptions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, there are complex legal and logistical factors to consider when determining the legality and appropriateness of such actions.
Expired Contracts and Legal Implications
One unique aspect of this situation is that the UAW’s contracts have expired, potentially nullifying certain contract terms, including the “no strike, no lockout” clause. As a result, the union can strike, but it also opens the door for companies to respond with lockouts.
The Role of the Strike Fund
Conducting targeted strikes can be financially advantageous for the union, as it reduces the number of members eligible for “strike pay” from its strike fund. This fund typically provides $500 per week to each eligible member during a strike. However, this calculation does not account for additional expenses, such as healthcare coverage, which can deplete the fund more rapidly.
President Fain has emphasized the importance of unity among UAW members, acknowledging the potential challenges ahead. While these targeted strikes may mark a departure from past practices, they reflect the union’s determination to secure favorable agreements for its members.