Auto workers' union calls talks with Ford productive as strike continues

NEW YORK (AP) — The United Auto Workers said Saturday it had “reasonably productive conversations” with Ford, as its limited strike against the Big 3 automakers carried into a second day.

The union is trying to reach a deal with not only Ford but also General Motors and Stellantis for better pay in an era of big profits for the industry, which is trying to transition from gasoline-powered engines to electric vehicles.

Stellantis on Saturday also gave details about its most recent offer to the union, which brought its wage proposal roughly in line with its competitors. The owner of Chrysler said its offer would provide cumulative raises of nearly 21% for hourly wages, with an immediate 10% increase if a contract is ratified.

That, though, is still below the 36% increase over four years the UAW is seeking, along with other demands that would increase costs for auto companies.

Mark Stewart, chief operating officer for North America at Stellantis, on Saturday called it part of a “really competitive” overall proposal, as it tries to compete with non-union automakers outside the Big 3 that have lower costs.

Stewart also described a possible solution related to a plant in Belvidere, Illinois, that has already been idled, which is a big issue for the union. But that offer left the table after the deadline to avert a strike passed. Stewart declined to discuss details about the proposal.

“That’s how they see these workers. A bargaining chip,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement. “Belvidere Assembly was a profitable plant that just a few years ago supported around 5,000 workers and their families. Now that number is zero, and Stellantis wants to keep playing games.”

Nearly 1 in 10 of America’s unionized auto workers went on strike Friday. The strikes are limited for now to three assembly plants: a GM factory in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, near Detroit, and a Jeep plant run by Stellantis in Toledo, Ohio.

Automakers have since told some non-striking workers not to report to work, including 600 who were told not to report Friday to a Ford plant.

Politicians have been pushing automakers to consider workers who gave up pay and benefits to help their employers during the Great Recession.

“Now that our carmakers are enjoying robust profits, it’s time to do right by those same workers so the industry can emerge more united and competitive than ever,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday.