The United Auto Workers (UAW) union seems to be nearing updated agreements with Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis after ongoing strikes have plagued the automakers for nearly four weeks following the expiration of previous worker contracts.
According to the union and the companies, the so-called “Big Three” have offered to increase wages by between 20 and 23 percent over a four-year period in the latest contract updates (via Reuters). Ford and Chrysler parent Stellantis have also reinstated cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and have cut the time it takes temporary employees to reach top pay.
Still, more progress is needed for the union and the automakers to reach an agreement.
Reuters reports that the most significant remaining obstacles to a deal are pension plans and the inclusion of future electric vehicle (EV) battery plants in the contracts. The UAW is demanding the companies restore defined benefit pension plans ruled out in 2007, along with including workers at future battery plants within the contracts.
None of the automakers have offered the restoration of pre-2007 pension plans at this point.
Reuters notes that restoring pre-2007 defined pension plans would add multibillion-dollar liabilities back into company balance sheets, which were largely unloaded by both GM and Chrysler in 2009 when the companies filed for bankruptcy.
Although automakers haven’t offered to restore the defined pension plans, people familiar with the talks say that negotiations have touched on potential solutions with added income security. These solutions have looked at the automakers offering annuities as an investment option for 401(k) savings plans, and Stellantis explored a more generous 401(k) offering with a potential annuity plan in a September 22 proposal to the UAW.
Additionally, Ford and GM reached contract agreements with the union Unifor, which represents the company’s many workers at Canadian manufacturing facilities. Notably, the agreements included plans to shift workers to hybrid retirement plans through nonprofit fund manager CAAT, which will work like defined-contribution retirement plans and will avoid adding benefit liability to the company’s balance sheets.
The inclusion of EV battery plant workers has also been a key component of negotiations, with Ford CEO Jim Farley recently saying that the UAW had been holding the automaker “hostage” over future battery plants — despite the company not having hired for the facilities yet.
The automaker also halted construction on a Michigan battery plant being built in conjunction with Chinese manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co (CATL) late last month. Ford also plans to work with South Korean battery manufacturer SK On on three other battery plants.
“While Ford remains open to the possibility of working with the UAW on future battery plants in the United States, these are multi-billion-dollar investments and must operate at competitive and sustainable levels,” Ford said in a more recent statement.
GM avoided additional strike escalations last week after making last-minute concessions to include joint venture battery plants under the contracts. As of negotiations on Wednesday, GM has not revealed further details about the wage or benefit details of the agreement.