The United Auto Workers (UAW) strike that resulted in a successful draft collective bargaining agreement with the Big 3 automakers has not only been a historic moment in labor history, but a stepping stone in the bridging of workers’ rights and climate justice.
The UAW engaged in a six-week strike against the major automotive companies—GM, Ford, and Stellantis. The union was striking to reverse concessions it made 15 years ago, during the 2008 recession, establishing a two-tiered wage system and eroding benefits.
While the union’s pay structure remained low, inflation took larger bites out of the workers’ pay and the Big 3’s profits soared, reaching $250 billion from 2013 to 2022. During the shift to electric vehicles, automakers have reduced worker pay and benefits, asserting that a legal loophole exempts them from incorporating new battery plants into their master agreements with the UAW.
As the existing contracts concluded, the workers articulated fresh demands under UAW President Shawn Fain’s leadership. Firstly, the elimination of tiers among workers; secondly, equitable compensation and adjustments for the cost of living; and thirdly, assurances of job security along with a just transition to the production of electric vehicles that prioritizes workers’ rights and safety.
Following more than a month of picketing, the union has successfully negotiated tentative agreements with all three major companies. This marks a significant victory, encompassing salary increases, enhanced job security, and various other benefits. The next step involves UAW workers voting on the ratification of the contract. This decision-making process is expected to span a few weeks and will be regularly updated on the UAW website.
UAW President Fain appeared frequently in social media and in national news coverage laying out the union’s strategy for a much larger solidarity movement that builds worker power across sectors. While he may not have mentioned directly the connection between environmental groups and unions, there is a long history of both coming together.
This collaborative effort holds a pivotal role, as it carries the potential to apply pressure on automakers. The focus is on urging them to prioritize practices such as recycling, responsible mining, and the development of lower-emission products, all while ensuring thorough scrutiny of the supply chain.
For more than a decade Earthworks has partnered with the IndustriALL Global Union and United Steelworkers to develop standards for more responsible practices at mine sites. We seek labor rights right from the source of minerals and extraction, extending through the entire supply chain. This strategic approach is aimed at ensuring that the transition to clean energy does not repeat the mistakes of the past. We were proud to be standing with the UAW in the streets and to be introducing allies for worker rights in auto manufacturing and in metals mining; the two ends of the supply chain are better equipped to support each other going forward.
By supporting the UAW, Earthworks acknowledges that all workers are connected from the mining sites to the car dealership and a just transition can only happen if we all work together.