Ford laid off 600 workers at its Michigan plant on Friday – less than 24 hours into a historic United Auto Workers strike.
UAW union members at General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler parent Stellantis ceased work at midnight on Thursday, marking the first time all three have simultaneously gone on strike.
Workers walked out of three plants – one each from the Big Three automakers – in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio, and those picketing the plants were greeted with cheers from enthusiastic fellow union members.
Union leaders are seeking a 40 percent pay rise over four years, pointing out that their bosses received similar pay rises.
Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, on Friday said the unions needed to be ‘realistic’, and defended her own $30 million salary – a 34 percent increase over four years.
Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, defended her $30 million salary on Friday
United Auto Workers from Louisville Kentucky rally in support of striking UAW members in Detroit on Friday
United Auto Workers member Patricia Kings attend a rally in Detroit on Friday
‘My compensation – 92 per cent of it is based on the performance of the company,’ she told CNN.
‘When the company does well, everyone does well.’
She said critics need ‘to look at the whole compensation package.’
Barra added: ‘We think we have a very competitive offer on the table, and that’s why we want to get back there and get this done.’
She said GM’s team was ‘the best in the world’ and praised them for being ‘resilient’, but said she was ‘disappointed and frustrated’ at the stalemate.
Barra, 61, said GM was offering pay raises of up to 21 percent, job security and healthcare.
‘Our team is ready to be at the table and we need UAW leadership to get back to the table so we can get these issues resolved and get people back to work.’
Bernie Sanders, speaking at a Friday rally, retorted: ‘I say to Ms. Barra, do you have any idea what it’s like for one of your workers to survive on $17 an hour?’
Bruce Baumhower, president of the UAW Local 12 in Toledo, Ohio, said the strike was long overdue.
‘One thing that drives us crazy is, we went through bankruptcy with Barack Obama in 2008 and the beginning of 2009,’ he said.
‘And we were told by the president we had to give up huge concessions for them to get the government support to turn their companies around. We did that. And it hasn’t been reversed.
‘When we came out of bankruptcy, our starting pay at Jeep was $15.78.
‘Fifteen years later, it’s $15.78. There’s something wrong with that.’
Bernie Sanders on Friday told a rally in Detroit he doubted that the CEOs of the car companies knew what it was like to live on $17 an hour
Bruce Baumhower, president of the UAW Local 12 in Toledo, Ohio, said the strike was long overdue, pointing out starting wages at Jeep were $15.78 an hour
The UAW leadership said it plans to resume bargaining on Saturday.
But Ford is already feeling the impact, and has laid off 600 people at their Michigan assembly plant in Wayne.
The company said the layoffs would be temporary, affecting people working in the body construction department and what they termed the ‘south sub-assembly area of integrated stamping’ – stamping being the shaping of flat sheets of metal into specific dimensions for car manufacture.
‘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,’ said Ford.
Ford uses E-coating – electrodeposition coating – as a means of painting and finishing the parts.
‘E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.’
Similarly, GM told some 2,000 workers at a Kansas car plant that their factory likely would be shut down next week for lack of parts, stemming from a nearby plant being struck.
At a rally on Friday afternoon and at picket lines during the day, union members protested loudly and took special aim at a two-tiered wage system that left new hires without the pay or benefits of seasoned hands.
Workers stand outside the Ford Michigan assembly plant on Friday
UAW President Shawn Fain marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit on Friday
That was unfair and favored investors over workers, they said.
‘We’re not going to wreck the economy. The truth is we are going to wreck the billionaire economy,’ said UAW President Shawn Fain.
The union is demanding a bigger share of profits, shorter work weeks, restoration of defined benefit pensions and stronger job security as automakers shift to electric vehicles.
UAW vice president Chuck Browning, who is leading talks with Ford, told a rally of hundreds of UAW workers in downtown Detroit on Friday afternoon that recent talks have made ‘good progress, but we have far to go.’
Joe Biden, who describes himself as the most pro-union president in history, called for the auto companies to reward workers just as executives’ salaries have risen.
‘The companies have made some significant offers but I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts,’ he said.