Is America’s Auto Industry in Trouble?by@allan-grain
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Is America’s Auto Industry in Trouble?

by Allan GrainSeptember 18th, 2023
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Nearly 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union decided to down tools and walk off the job. This marks the inaugural occasion in U.S. history where the UAW has simultaneously initiated strikes against the "Big Three" automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

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The American auto industry finds itself on potentially shaky ground, as a significant and historic labor movement gains momentum. On September 15, automotive production came to a screeching halt at three major facilities located in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri.

Details on the Strike

This stoppage is due to nearly 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union deciding to down tools and walk off the job.

Notably, this marks the inaugural occasion in U.S. history where the UAW has simultaneously initiated strikes against the "Big Three" automakers: Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. Stellantis, it should be noted, isn't just a single brand.

It encompasses a portfolio of 14 different automotive brands, which includes household names like Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep.

This wave of strikes was prompted by the expiration of union contracts for a vast number of UAW members, totaling approximately 150,000, who work for the Big Three. These contracts ran out on September 14.

According to the details of this now-expired agreement, full-time autoworkers would start with an hourly wage of $18. This rate could climb to a peak of $32 per hour, but only after they have dedicated eight years to the job.

Several pressing questions emerge in the wake of these developments. What is the Biden administration’s proposed plan to navigate or potentially mitigate this labor dispute?

It remains crucial for the authorities to address this swiftly, given the immense economic implications of a prolonged strike and the negative consequences it can have on the livelihoods of thousands of workers.

CBS reported that Ford Motor said it had temporarily laid 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 early Friday.

UAW President Shawn Fain visited the Wayne plant Friday and said the strike will continue until Ford, GM, and Stellantis (which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM, along with foreign brands such as Peugeot and Open) lift worker wages and improve job security.

Interestingly, in August, the Biden administration announced billions in grants and loans to help the auto industry transition to making electric vehicles — while retaining union workers for the new jobs, as reported by Michigan Radio.

The $15.5 billion program is expected to be administered by the Department of Energy.

Car companies that have a long history in auto manufacturing with an existing union workforce, will get preference for some of the money. That could mean the Detroit Three would have an application advantage over car makers in southern states with non-unionized workforces.

While the immediate effects of the strike seem detrimental, it's possible that some sectors or entities might find an advantage. Who stands to benefit from this labor unrest?

With traditional automakers facing such disruptions, does this present an opportunity for the Electric Vehicle (EV) market to capture a larger share? Could this strike inadvertently propel the EV industry to the forefront of the American automotive sector?

The UAW strike is not just about immediate labor concerns. Beneath the surface, there's a deeper undercurrent of unease about the impending shift towards EVs and its potential implications for the labor market.

By virtue of having fewer parts than their traditional internal combustion counterparts, EVs inherently demand less manual labor, potentially leading to significant job cuts. Moreover, the geographic distribution of these emerging EV industries raises eyebrows.

A substantial portion of the new plants dedicated to EV manufacturing is sprouting in the southern states, where the climate is not particularly friendly towards labor unions.

Companies like Tesla and several Asian EV manufacturers, while pioneering in the field, are criticized for not compensating their workforce adequately. The relatively lower wage structure in these firms stands in sharp contrast to what unionized workers in traditional automakers earn.

Recognizing the tidal wave of change coming, the UAW sees this juncture as crucial. It's not just about immediate wages or working conditions; it's about setting a precedent for the future of American EV manufacturing. The union aims to ensure that as the EV industry flourishes, the workforce isn't sidelined but rather receives a just portion of the burgeoning profits.

Parallel to this labor-management dispute runs a broader political narrative. There's an ongoing tug-of-war between factions advocating a rapid shift to EVs to curb carbon emissions and those championing the rights of fossil fuels. Some argue for a more laissez-faire approach, proposing that market forces alone should dictate the speed of this automotive evolution.

What Happens Next?

Amidst this complicated and layered saga, the Biden administration has come under scrutiny. The question arises: What steps is the current government taking to mediate and guide this transformation? As we stand on the cusp of an automotive revolution, the choices made now will undoubtedly influence the trajectory of the U.S. auto industry for decades.

The intersection of labor rights, technological advancements, and environmental concerns promises a difficult road ahead, and we will need to come together to navigate it.

Only time will tell how these events will unfold and shape the future of the American automotive landscape. Until then, let us hope everyone keeps their jobs.