UAW's Shawn Fain says he's fighting against "poverty wages" and "greedy CEOs." Here's what to know.

14:32 18.09.2023 - CBS News, Aimee Picchi

With the United Auto Workers' strike against the big three automakers, union leader Shawn Fain told CBS News' Face the Nation that he's fighting against "poverty wages" and "greedy CEOs." His fiery rhetoric and creative approach to the strike is underscoring his difference with prior union management, according to experts.

Fain was relatively unknown outside the union until September 14, when Detroit's Big Three automakers failed to reach a new labor agreement before their contract with UAW members expired. Since the strike began, Fain has become the public face of the union's fight to extract higher wages and benefits from the automakers.

He's also earning comparisons to Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, with comments such as Fain's remark to Face the Nation on Sunday that "the billionaire class keeps taking more and more and the working class keeps getting left behind."

"He's creative, I will give him that," Harry Katz, the Jack Sheinkman Professor of Collective Bargaining at Cornell University, told CBS MoneyWatch. "He seems to want to prove over and over to the members that he's different."

Fain was elected as president of the UAW just six months ago in a tight runoff race that tipped in his favor by only a few hundred votes. In the lead-up to the election, Fain stressed that he wanted to run the union differently, criticizing prior management for being "way too close" to automakers and failing to fight for their workers.

"To me, we're at a crossroads," Fain told Bloomberg Law in 2022 as he was running for election to be UAW president. "We have to get leaders in there who are going to take action and be proactive and not wait for things to happen then react to it."

Here's what to know about Fain.

When did Shawn Fain join the UAW?

Fain, 54, started with the UAW in 1994, when he worked as an electrician for Chrysler at its Kokomo Casting Plant in Kokomo, Indiana, his hometown.

The union was familiar to Fain as he comes from a family of UAW members, with his grandfather starting at Chrysler in 1937, the year that workers at that automaker joined the union. Two of his grandparents were UAW GM retirees, and Fain carries one of his grandfather's pay stubs in his wallet to remind him of his family's beginnings.

His role in the union included serving his local at "every level," according to the UAW. That included being elected five terms as a skilled trades committeeman and the plant shop chairman for Local 1166.

Shop chair is "among the most demanding jobs in the union in that you're dealing with grievances and issues on the shop floor all the time," University of California, Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken told NPR.

In 2009, he became a UAW negotiator, and then in 2012 became an international representative.

What is Fain known for?

In prior years, Fain was outspoken about some labor agreements, telling Bloomberg News that he was against ratifying a two-tier initiative in 2007 that meant new hires would be paid at a lower rate and be excluded from some traditional benefits such as a pension plan.

"I faced a lot of blowback back then," he noted.

But it was an embezzlement scandal at the UAW that opened the door to new voices like Fain in the union's top leadership. That case involved more than a dozen UAW officials who were accused of siphoning money for their own uses, ranging from gambling to buying cocaine.

What was Fain doing during the UAW scandal?

During the embezzlement scandal, Fain was working as an international representative at the Stellantis training center, overseeing the skills training programs. Stellantis, which was formed in 2021 in a merger between Fiat Chrysler and European automaker Groupe PSA, owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM, along with major foreign brands including Citroen, Peugeot and Maserati.

"I always felt like leadership was way too close to the company, but really the only people who could know what was really happening were the people who had to sign off on expenditures. I wasn't in that type of role then," he told Bloomberg News. "I've been working with the federal government, with teams of attorneys - everything - trying to clean up and reorganize."

How much does an average UAW autoworker make-and how much do Big Three CEOs get paid?
These are the vehicles most impacted by the UAW strike
What is Shawn Fain's salary?

The most recent data available on Fain's salary with the UAW is from 2022, prior to his election as president, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Last year, Fain earned $160,130 as an administrative assistant for the union, a union filing shows.

Prior UAW president Raymond Curry earned $267,126 that year.

What does the UAW want from the automakers?

Fain told CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday that the union's demands "are just. We're asking for our fair share in this economy and the fruits of our labor."

The strike involves three factories: a GM assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan; and a Stellantis assembly complex in Toledo, Ohio. The plants build some of the automakers' most popular vehicles, including the Jeep Wrangler and the Ford Bronco.

The UAW's goal is to pressure automakers to provide a 36% pay increase across a four-year contract; pension benefits for all employees; limited use of temporary workers; more paid time off, including a four-day workweek ; and more job protections, including the right to strike over plant closings.

Is Fain's strategy working?

His strategy of targeting three factories in the UAW's initial move "certainly created more uncertainty," said Cornell's Katz. Fain likely wants to prove "he's a tough militant guy that's not going to agree to concessions."

But it's likely that the labor dispute will be settled due to economic circumstances, rather than due to the influence of individual labor leaders, he added. The fact is, Katz added, that the autoworkers are bargaining from a position of strength, and as thus are likely to earn many - but not all - of their demands.

shawFor instance, because the labor market is tight, autoworkers' spouses or partners are likely working, giving the employees more bargaining power and economic flexibility to handle a strike, he added.

The UAW "will get a strong agreement, it's a question of how and when they reach a compromise," Katz said.

Katz's prediction: the UAW will win a 3% annual raise in base pay over a multi-year contract, as well as a reinstatement of the cost-of-living adjustment and a lump-sum payment to make up for the hit from inflation during the pandemic. Some temporary workers will be converted into permanent employees, and the wages of the bottom-tier workers will be brought up closer to the top tier. But, he added, it's unlikely they UAW get the return of a traditional pension.

"I would reject [the automakers'] offers just as he is rejecting them," Katz added. "More power to him. When company profits and sales are strong, there's a low employment rate and a strong economy, unions do rather well."

/ Monday, September 18, 2023, 2:32 PM /

themes:  Detroit  California  Ohio  Michigan  Indiana  Missouri  Vermont

Auto industry strike continues as UAW chief Shawn Fain demands "fair share"

The auto workers' strike against Detroit's Big Three went into its fourth day with no signs of an early breakthrough and against the threat that the walkout could soon spread.

A spokesman for General Motors said that representatives of the company and the United Auto Workers were continuing to negotiate on Monday.

So far the strike is limited to about 13,000 workers at three factories - one each at GM, Ford Motor and Stellantis. GM warned, however, that 2,000 UAW-represented workers at an assembly plant in Kansas City are "expected to be idled as soon as early this week" because of a shortage of supplies from a GM plant near St. Louis, where workers walked off the job Friday.

Workers at the Kansas City plant build the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac XT4.

Ford on Friday moved to temporarily lay 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.

"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," the company said in a statement Friday. "E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike."

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she is hoping for a quick resolution, and that it is too soon to gauge the impact of the strike.

"It's premature to be making forecasts about what it means for the economy. It would depend on how long the strike lasts and who would be affected by it," she said on CNBC.

Experts say the strike could drive up new and used car prices and cause a loss of $5.6 billion in wages and automaker earnings.

In a sign of the potential economic and political of a long strike, President Joe Biden is sending two top administration officials to Detroit this week to meet with both sides. Biden has sided with the UAW in brief public comments, saying that the automakers have not fairly shared their record profits with workers.

An administration official said Monday that acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior aide Gene Sperling will not serve as mediators - they won't be at the bargaining table - but are going to Detroit "to help support the negotiations in any way the parties feel is constructive." The official was not authorized to discuss private discussions and spoke anonymously.

UAW President Shawn Fain on Sunday shot down an offer by Stellantis - which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM, along with major foreign brands including Citroen, Peugeot and Maserati - to hike its worker' wages by 21% over four years.

Ford and GM have also each offered a roughly 20% pay bump. The union is asking for a 36% hike over a four-year contract.

The union also wants the Big Three automakers to eliminate their two-tier wage model, which results in many workers earning less than the average wage of $32 an hour; offer defined benefit pensions to all employees; limit the the use of temporary workers; offer a four-day workweek ; and provide more job protections, including the right to strike over plant closings.

"Our demands are just," Fain said on "Face the Nation. ..... 

Rather than launching an all-out strike of its 146,000 members, the union opted to target three factories a plan that could make the union's $825 million strike fund last longer. Workers walked out of a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford plant near Detroit, and a Stellantis factory in Toledo, Ohio, that produces Jeeps.

A key feature of the UAW strategy is the threat of escalating the strike if the union is unhappy with the pace of bargaining. On Friday, Fain said more factories could be targeted: "It could be in a day, it could be in a week."

Strategically, targeting three factories "certainly created more uncertainty," Harry Katz, the Jack Sheinkman Professor of Collective Bargaining at Cornell University, told CBS News, adding that Fain is signaling that "he's a tough, militant guy that's not going to agree to concessions."


UAW threatens to expand strike to more auto plants by end of week

 ..... But In a video statement late Monday, UAW President Shawn Fain said more factories could be targeted if "serious progress" toward an agreement isn't reached by Friday at noon.

"Autoworkers have waited long enough to make things right at the Big Three. We're not waiting around, and we're not messing around," he said.


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