The United Auto Workers chief has warned that a historic strike at the top three US car manufacturers will expand if the companies do not raise their wage offers in ongoing negotiations.
The warning comes as the standoff enters its third day with no immediate resolution on the horizon.
“If we don’t get better offers and … take care of the members’ needs, we’re going to amp this up even more,” UAW President Shawn Fain told CBS News on Sunday, saying General Motors, Ford and Stellantis have “no excuse” for not resolving salary disputes given their massive profits of recent years.
“We’re prepared to do whatever we have to do,” Fain said. “The membership is ready, the membership is fed up.”
The UAW is demanding improved conditions across the board for its workers, including a 40 percent pay raise over the next four-year contract. The auto companies are so far offering raises of around 20 percent.
The dispute has fed already acrimonious debate in Washington over President Joe Biden’s economic policies ahead of the 2024 election – and whether he is doing enough to resolve the auto standoff.
Only 12,700 of the union’s 150,000 workers are currently on strike, but Fain’s comments pointed to the possibility of a much broader action, which could potentially be felt throughout the economy.
Republicans on Sunday tried to tie the strike to voters’ concerns about inflation and the Biden administration’s overall economic leadership.
“I have no doubt in my mind that all those hard-working autoworkers are living in the same reality as other Americans, and that is that wages are not keeping up with inflation,” former Vice President Mike Pence said on CNN.
Pence, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in the 2024 election, blamed the stewardship of Biden, a Democrat, for “the worst inflation in 40 years” and added that the administration’s electric vehicles push would mainly benefit battery makers in China.
Pence’s former boss, ex-President Donald Trump, who holds a resounding lead in polls over other Republican presidential aspirants, has been critical of the union and of Biden’s focus on promoting electric vehicle manufacturing.
“The auto workers will not have any jobs … because all of these cars are going to be made in China – the electric cars, automatically, are going to be made in China,” Trump said in an interview aired Sunday on NBC.
Democrats have lined up behind the autoworkers – and Biden.
“The president has made it clear which side he is on in this struggle,” progressive Senator Bernie Sanders said on CNN, adding that Biden had repeatedly said “that a strong labour movement benefits all of us”.
Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, echoed that theme.
“Incredible economic prosperity has been generated for the corporations,” he told ABC, shortly before heading to Detroit to stand with the workers. “It’s only fair that everyone share in those record profits.”
Besides higher wages, the UAW is demanding shorter work weeks, restoration of defined benefit pensions and stronger job security as automakers make the shift to electric vehicles.