The ongoing strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW), the biggest union in the US automotive industry, has ramifications on auto production, costs, and supply chains. In this blog, we explore the impact of the UAW strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis and look at who stands to win and lose.
What the UAW is demanding
Union leaders representing the striking workers are negotiating for the following:
- Higher wages and other benefits: The UAW has been asking for a 40% pay hike, reduced weekly work hours, revised pension schemes, improved healthcare benefits, and greater job security. The closure of factories to transition towards electric vehicles (EVs) is yet another factor driving the union’s demand for more protection for their workers
- Reintroduction of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to help workers’ pay keep pace with inflation: During the 2008 financial crisis, autoworkers made concessions to automakers, including giving up COLA, which has not been reinstated. Over the past two decades, the average hourly wage for workers in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry has declined by more than 20% when accounting for inflation
- Equal benefits for all employees: The industry currently operates under a two-tier wage system, where new employees and temporary workers receive lower pay and benefits than their more experienced counterparts for performing the same tasks
After unsuccessful negotiations on these issues, UAW President Shawn Fain declared a rolling strike on Sept. 15, simultaneously targeting all three automakers. Since then, the consequences of these events have hit the entire US automotive industry. Let’s explore this further.
Impact on production
Despite only three factories/plants being affected by the strike initially (GM’s assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri; Ford’s site in Wayne, Michigan; and Stellantis’ site in Toledo, Ohio), the impact on production was stark when 13,000 workers walked off the job. Vehicle production by these automakers fell by 4,000 to 6,000 vehicles within a week of the UAW strike.
The three Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) argue that the proposed UAW contract would hinder their competitiveness in transitioning to EVs. If the UAW strike continues for more than four weeks, it could delay EV development plans and extend production schedules to 2024. This would further set back Ford, GM, and Stellantis, who already trail Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid Motors in the EV market.
Impact on costs
The UAW proposal is unlikely to be accepted in full by any of the three automakers, considering they already pay higher wages (US$65 per hour) compared to competitors such as Tesla (US$45 per hour) and Toyota (US$55 per hour), which do not use union workers. Any further wage increases would likely cause GM, Ford, and Stellantis to pass on some costs to their customers, providing an advantage to other automakers who can price their vehicles lower.
The three auto OEMs contend that they must shift towards manufacturing EVs to comply with government regulations and maintain competitiveness in the automotive industry. However, this transition will require significant reinvestment of their profits, which will not be possible if they comply with the UAW’s demands unless the firms choose to incur more debt.
Impact on supply chains
The UAW expanded its strike last week to 38 GM and Stellantis parts distribution centers as negotiations with these two manufacturers failed to make significant progress. The strategic move by the union to hit parts centers rather than production facilities will impact supply chains, making it harder for the companies to source new parts to repair and service vehicles that have already been sold. Production delays and strikes on parts centers will also cascade the impact onto Tier-1 suppliers, further increasing pressure on the three OEMs to reach an agreement with the UAW.
While the UAW’s demands may well be in good faith and result in improved working conditions for their members, the road ahead for the three impacted automakers seems nothing but bumpy. The true winner in this entire saga may well turn out to be Tesla, as it is poised to expand and enhance its market share in the EV segment.
Everest Group’s Engineering Research & Development (ER&D) services analysts will continue to follow the developments and provide updates. Please reach out to Nishant Udupa or Gokul K to discuss the UAW strike or other automotive industry topics.