NATIONAL NEWS

UAW and Stellantis reach tentative contract deal as union adds strike at Tennessee GM factory

Oct 28, 2023, 11:55 AM | Updated: 6:58 pm

FILE - United Auto Workers members hold picket signs near a General Motors Assembly Plant in Delta ...

FILE - United Auto Workers members hold picket signs near a General Motors Assembly Plant in Delta Township, Mich., Sept. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT (AP) — Jeep maker Stellantis reached a tentative contract agreement with the United Auto Workers union on Saturday as it escalated strikes against General Motors by adding a plant in Tennessee.

The Stellantis deal, which still must be ratified by members, leaves only GM without an agreement with the union. But the union walked out Saturday night at a GM factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, in an effort to increase pressure on the company to reach a deal.

The Stellantis deal mirrors one reached earlier this week with Ford. The union says the contract also saves jobs at a factory in Belvidere, Illinois, that Stellantis had planned to close.

GM said it was disappointed with the additional strike at the Spring Hill assembly and propulsion systems plant “in light of the progress we have made.” The company said in a statement that is has bargained in good faith with the union and wants to reach a deal as soon as possible.

Spring Hill is GM’s largest manufacturing facility in North America with 11 million square feet of building space and almost 4,000 employees. It makes the electric Cadillac Lyriq as well as the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5 and XT6 crossover SUVs.

A message was left Saturday night seeking comment from the union.

Contract deal confirmed

UAW President Shawn Fain confirmed the Stellantis agreement in a video appearance Saturday evening and said that 43,000 members at the company still have to vote on the deal.

About 14,000 UAW workers who were on strike at two Stellantis assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio, and several parts distribution centers across the country, were told to drop their picket signs and return to work. So the agreement will end a six-week strike at the maker of Jeep and Ram vehicles.

The pact includes 25% in general wage increases over the next 4 1/2 years for top assembly plant workers, with 11% coming once the deal is ratified. Workers also will get cost-of-living pay that would bring the raises to a compounded 33%, with top assembly plant workers making more than $42 per hour. At Stellantis, top-scale workers now make around $31 per hour.

Like the Ford contract, the Stellantis deal would run through April 30, 2028.

Under the deal, the union said it saved jobs in Belvidere as well at an engine plant in Trenton, Michigan, and a machining factory in Toledo, Ohio.

“We’ve done the impossible. We have moved mountains. We have reopened an assembly plant that was closed,” Fain said.

The deal includes a commitment by Stellantis to build a new midsize truck at its factory in Belvidere, Illinois, that was slated to be closed. About 1,200 workers will be hired back, plus another 1,000 workers will be added for a new electric vehicle battery plant, the union said.

“We’re bringing back both combustion vehicles and electric vehicle jobs to Belvidere,” Fain said.

Vice President Rich Boyer, who led the Stellantis talks, said the workforce will be doubled at the Toledo, Ohio, machining plant. The union, he said, won $19 billion worth of investment across the U.S.

Fain said Stellantis had proposed cutting 5,000 U.S. jobs, but the union’s strike changed that to adding 5,000 jobs by the end of the contract.

In a statement, the UAW said the Stellantis agreement has gains worth more than four times the improvements in the 2019 contract with the UAW. Through April of 2028, a top-scale assembly plant worker’s base wage will increase more than all the increases in the past 22 years.

Big increase for starting wages for new employees

Starting wages for new hires will rise 67% including cost-of-living adjustments to over $30 per hour, the union said. Temporary workers will get raises of more than 165%, while workers at parts centers will get an immediate 76% increase if the contract is ratified.

Like the Ford agreement, it will take just three years for new workers to get to the top of the assembly pay scale, the union said.

The union also won the right to strike over plant closures at Stellantis, and it can strike if the company doesn’t meet product and investment commitments, Fain said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, who represents Belvidere in Congress, said he’s received indications that electric vehicles will be produced at the site. Stellantis had indefinitely shut down the plant in the spring.

Bruce Baumhower, president of the local union at a large Stellantis Jeep factory in Toledo, Ohio, that has been on strike since September, said he expects workers will vote to approve the deal because of the pay raises above 30% and a large raise immediately.

“Eleven percent is right on the hood,” he said. “It’s a historic agreement as far as I’m concerned.”

Some union members have been complaining that Fain promised 40% raises to match what he said was given to company CEOs, but Baumhower said that was UAW President Shawn Fain’s opening bid.

“Anybody who knows anything about negotiations, you always start out much higher than you think is realistic to get,” he said.

Excitement in the air

Jermaine Antwine and other Stellantis workers picketing outside the automaker’s Sterling Heights, Michigan, plant were excited Saturday after hearing of a tentative deal.

“Anytime you reach a tentative agreement, it’s a good thing,” said Antwine, 48, of Pontiac, Michigan, who has spent 24 years with the automaker and is a team leader in materials at the Sterling Heights plant. “Ultimately, the numbers they did come to agree with is what the UAW wanted.”

The union and Stellantis went into intense negotiations on Thursday, the day after the Ford deal was announced, before finalizing it on Saturday.

About 18,000 workers at GM are now on strike at factories in Texas, Michigan and Missouri and Tennessee.

The union began targeted strikes against all three automakers on Sept. 15 after its contracts with the companies expired. At the peak, about 46,000 workers were on strike against all three companies, about one-third of the union’s 146,000 members at the Detroit three.

With the Ford deal, which established the pattern for the other two companies, workers with pensions will see small increases when they retire, and those hired after 2007 with 401(k) plans will get large increases. For the first time, the union will have the right to go on strike over company plans to close factories. Temporary workers also will get large raises, and Ford agreed to shorten to three years the time it takes for new hires to reach the top of the pay scale.

Other union leaders who followed more aggressive bargaining strategies in recent months have also secured pay hikes and other benefits for their members. Last month, the union representing Hollywood writers called off a nearly five-month strike after scoring some wins in compensation, length of employment and other areas.

Outside the Sterling Heights plant, some workers said they looked forward to a ratification vote and going back to work.

“The tentative agreement is excellent,” said Anthony Collier, 54, of Sterling Heights, Michigan. “We hear that it’s going to be parity, at least, with Ford, so we believe a lot of people are looking forward to signing. Most of us had to dip into savings, get loans. Everybody knows the economy went up on all of us, so it’s a little tight to be out on strike pay.”

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UAW and Stellantis reach tentative contract deal as union adds strike at Tennessee GM factory