- Ford, Stellantis and GM are seeing 13,000 workers go on strike in what could be a protracted strike from the UAW
- The union wants a 40% pay rise, but the Detroit Three have only offered half that
- Shares in the three companies sank across the board on Thursday ahead of the strike action
The United Auto Workers has sent thousands of its members on strike after Ford, General Motors and Stellantis failed to reach a new labor deal with the union. The UAW is using a new tactic to try and put pressure on the automakers, which has led most to think the strikes could last for longer than normal.
The move marks a new chapter in the automotive industry’s strike history, but the heat is on the UAW boss to ensure the new approach works. As for investors, they can see the writing on the wall and automaker stocks were sent climbing downwards in pre-market trading.
Here’s the lowdown on what’s happening with the worker strikes, why we’ve ended up here in the first place and how Wall Street took the news.
What’s the latest with the UAW strikes?
The first-ever simultaneous strike against the Detroit Three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis – has officially kicked off in what could be protracted negotiations to reach an agreement with the UAW.
The worker strikes began on Friday at General Motors’ Wentzville, Missouri plant, Ford’s Michigan Truck plant in Wayne, Michigan, and Stallentis’ Toledo Assembly complex in Ohio. In total, 13,000 members of the UAW are going on strike out of the UAW’s 145,000.
The union is debuting a new strike tactic, called the ‘Stand Up’ strike, where select plants will walk out on strike. The UAW says the move gives the national negotiators more wiggle room and that they could easily escalate to a national work stoppage if needed.
“As time goes on, more locals may be called on to ‘Stand Up’ and join the strike,” the union said to members on its website. “This gives us maximum leverage and maximum flexibility in our fight to win a fair contract at each of the Big Three automakers.” That suggests the stikes could last a long time, drawing out the impact on automakers’ bottom lines.
Could the strikes have been avoided?
Negotiations had been ongoing for weeks before the strike started, but an agreement couldn’t be reached in time. In all fairness, all three companies have increased their pay offers since negotiations began. Ford is proposing a 20% pay increase over the contract term, General Motors has now increased its own to match Ford’s as of Thursday, and Stellantis has suggested 17.5%.
So far, the union has rejected all of the offers. It’s still less than half of the pay hike the UAW is after and lacks any substantial increase in benefits, but there’s more to the rejections. The union is after an end to the two-tier wage system, which sees new workers earn up to 25% less than their more experienced counterparts, cost of living adjustments, benefit pensions for all workers restored and 32-hour work weeks, to name a few.
That will be an extremely tough sell for the Detroit Three, who want to bring their costs in line with other international automakers that don’t have unionized workers. Ford estimates their U.S. labor costs are roughly $64 an hour compared to $55 for international automakers and as little as $45 for EV maker Tesla
But there’s plenty of risk associated with holding out on negotiating a fair deal with the UAW. Deutsche Bank previously predicted that earnings at the three automakers could slip between $400 million and $500 million per week, assuming a national strike occurred.
The Detroit Three’s financial performance
Another sticking point with the union has been Ford, GM and Stellantis’ financial success. When you look at the three’s latest quarterly results, you can see why.
Ford’s second-quarter earnings recorded a 12% revenue increase year-over-year to $45 billion, with net income at $1.9 billion, nearly three times higher than the year-ago time period. The company also confirmed it had nearly $30 billion in cash and $47 billion of liquidity by the end of Q2.
As for General Motors, the automaker topped revenue expectations, recording $44.75 billion in revenue compared to the $42.64 billion expected, a 25% increase from the same time last year. Adjusted earnings came in at $3.23 billion. GM also raised its yearly guidance for the second time to expect adjusted earnings between $12 billion and $14 billion.
Stellantis posted a 12% year-on-year jump in net revenues and a 37% climb in net profit for the first half of 2023 while raising its growth outlook in the Middle East and Africa region from 5% to 7%. Stellantis also sold more EVs, with its global battery electric vehicle sales increasing by 24% to 169,000 units.
It’s hard for unions to understand why they have to fight for wage increases when they see each automaker pulling in big revenue numbers and raising profit guidance.
Why EVs are a problem for the UAW
All three companies have also benefited from the push towards EVs, especially under the Biden administration. The industry has seen a bevvy of grants for automakers, most recently being offered $12 billion in loans and grants for car manufacturers to convert their plants for EV production.
But there’s also a serious risk to workers. EVs don’t take as many parts to build and assemble, which the UAW translates to lost worker jobs in the long run. That’s why the UAW aims to get agreements in place that would let the union represent hourly workers at joint-venture EV battery plants planned by any three automakers.
It’s also called on the Biden administration to ease the transition into EVs by softening its proposed vehicle emission cuts that require 67% of all new vehicles to be electric by 2032. However, UAW president Shawn Fain has praised the latest grants announcement. He commented the deal “makes clear to employers that the EV transition must include strong union partnerships with the high pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for and won.”
What was the market reaction?
Two of the three automakers embroiled in the strikes suffered a blow to the share price on Thursday, with Ford’s stock falling 2.3% and GM declining 1.5%. Stellantis rose 0.2% after the UAW launched the strike.
It’s not just the Detroit Three that stand to take a share price hit – the wider automaker infrastructure, like auto part supplier companies, could also fall victim to the strikes. As the strikes loomed, Aptiv’s share price fell as much as 2.2% during Thursday trading before recovering, Lear Corp was down 1% and Magna dropped 2.25%.
The bottom line
A giant workers’ strike is the last thing Ford, GM and Stellantis want as demand for gas and EV vehicles picks up. That gives the union negotiators an advantage, though many would argue the Detroit Three’s 20% pay increase offer and other benefit perks are more than fair.
If an agreement can’t be reached with the UAW’s new striking tactic, we could see work stoppages go on for months. That will hurt Ford, GM and Stellantis where it hurts – so investors will be keeping a close eye on the situation.