UAW chief raises strike pay, issues warning to automakers

DETROIT (AP) — The president of the United Auto Workers union warned automakers that the union is prepared to strike if it doesn’t get its way in upcoming contract talks.

Gary Jones told delegates at the union’s bargaining convention in Detroit that it would raise weekly strike pay from $200 to $250 per week this month and $275 in January of next year.

The new union president says no one expects a strike but the UAW is prepared to walk out. He said raising the payments is a symbol to members that the union has their backs.

The not-so-veiled warning likely is directed more at General Motors than Ford and Fiat Chrysler, the other two Detroit automakers. All three have a total of 154,000 workers represented by the UAW. GM has proposed closing five factories in the U.S. and Canada by early next year as it grapples with falling demand for sedans.

The move would eliminate about 6,000 jobs in the two countries, although GM says many workers will retire and that it has about 2,700 factory jobs open at other plants. But the workers would have to transfer.

The company already has idled its small-car assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and plans to close car factories in Oshawa, Ontario, and Detroit-Hamtramck, Michigan, by January of 2020. Also scheduled to close this year are transmission factories in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.

The company has said the futures of the U.S. factories will be decided in the upcoming contract talks. It has said the plants aren’t getting new products due to the shift from cars to SUVs and trucks and because GM needs to cut excess factory capacity to generate money to develop electric and autonomous vehicles.

Jones has promised to fight the plant closures in the courts and at the bargaining table. The UAW already has sued GM over plant closures, which it says violates the current contract.

The threat to strike is a different stance from contract talks that occurred since the automakers got into financial trouble in 2008. Since then, the union has pledged to be business partner rather than an adversary.

Talks with Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler begin this summer. The four-year contracts with all three expire on September 15.

Jones told members in a speech Monday at the opening of the convention that the union’s strike fund now has over $721 million. The union increased dues in 2011 until the fund reaches $850 million.

“We are solid heading into the next four years of bargaining,” Jones said in his speech. “And this extra security for UAW families carries us to the bargaining table united in our goals.”

BAssociated Press