Raises drive deals to end strikes at automakers

DETROIT — Facing the loss of another $200 million this week to a lengthy strike, General Motors CEO Mary Barra wrapped up her weekend by going to the United Auto Workers’ Detroit headquarters intent on getting a new contract.

Joined by manufacturing chief Gerald Johnson at the meeting that started late Sunday, they were able to close a deal with UAW President Shawn Fain and other bargainers early Monday that should end a contentious six-week work stoppage, three people briefed on the matter said Monday.

The tentative deal capped a furious few days of agreements that still need to be ratified by 146,000 UAW members at GM, Ford and Jeep-maker Stellantis. Ford agreed to a new contract last week and was followed by Stellantis on Saturday, which raised the pressure on GM to settle for essentially the same terms.

All three companies agreed to raise general wages by 25% for top assembly plant workers and add cost of living adjustments that would bring their pay increases to over 30% by the time the contracts end, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly about the deal. Workers would get an immediate 11% pay raise upon ratification.

President Joe Biden, asked about the UAW deal while boarding Air Force One on Monday morning, said, “I think it’s great,” and gave a thumbs-up, according to a pool report. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said, suggesting he’ll have more to say.

Monday was the 46th day of the Detroit-based union’s walkout against GM. In addition to the Tennessee plant, workers were on strike at GM’s Wentzville midsize pickup truck and full-size commercial van plant outside St. Louis in Missouri, the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave plant in Delta Township outside Lansing and the full-size SUV plant in Arlington, Texas. Workers across the country at GM’s parts distribution centers also are on strike.

GM said last Tuesday, before workers at Arlington Assembly plant walked off the job, that the strike had cost it $800 million.

The Ford and Stellantis deals included gains more than four times what workers received in the 2019 contract, according to the union.

GM met the 25% wage increase demand before the weekend, The Detroit News previously reported. Top production pay at GM is $32.32 per hour.

Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan, said the union got much of what it wanted in the deals, which will raise the companies’ costs at a critical and historic time as the industry switches from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.

“The companies are trying to figure out how to transition to EVs without losing too many billions of dollars, and now face a huge bump in labor costs for the products that will finance the EV transition,” he said.

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