UAW Officials Throw in the Towel at American Axle
United Auto Workers officials ended the 12-week American Axle strike with a mid-May concessions-heavy settlement.
The new four-year contract will close two of the five struck plants and impose deep wage, benefit, and work conditions givebacks only marginally better than the offer that sent workers to the picket lines.
|Read the PDF of the UAW- American Axle agreement here.
Video of UAW American Axle workers angrily leaving informational meeting in Detroit. Credit: Alan Pollock.
Watch the full-sized video here
Wages will be cut almost by half, starting at $10 an hour at one plant and $14.35 an hour elsewhere. Wages are frozen over the life of the contract, while pension benefits will end, to be replaced by a 401(k) retirement plan.
New hires will have lower shift premiums and higher medical co-pays.
The strike—the longest major auto industry walkout since the GM strike of 1970—was considered by many UAW activists to be a watershed moment in the fight to maintain union standards in the auto parts industry.
Despite initial angry reactions against the May 16 tentative agreement, the contract was voted up by 78 percent of the members on May 23.
WHY WAS IT BIGGER?
Members reactions to the settlement varied at first hearing of the proposed deal. Many strikers became openly angry at the main Detroit informational meeting May 18. Speeches from UAW officials drew scattered boos and heckling from the audience.
Wendy Thompson, a retired president of UAW Local 235, challenged the UAW officials strategy for the strike from the floor in a speech that drew applause.
Thompson and other editorial committee members of Shifting Gears, an American Axle rank-and-file newsletter, passed out thousands of copies of a leaflet (see below) urging strikers to reject the contract in the days leading up to the vote.
But once voting began, resignation, frustration, and a “take-the-money-and-run” attitude toward proposed buyouts and buydowns (payouts that transition workers to the new lower wage scale) were rampant.
A Lehman Brothers financial analyst forecast that the company, which posted a $37 million profit last year, would gain another $185 million annually from the workers’ concessions. He predicted that one-third of the 3,650-strong workforce will leave the company, to be replaced not “in the U.S. but in Mexico.” Production in American Axle’s Mexican plant doubled during the strike.
The contract passed by wide margins in four struck plants in western New York and Michigan. Close to 2,000 members of UAW Local 235 at the flagship Detroit Axle plant approved the contract by a slightly slimmer 71 percent margin May 22.
Shopfloor Newsletter Condemns Axle Settlement “Lowlights”
Shifting Gears, an American Axle rank-and-file newsletter, pointed out the following “contract lowlights” in a special leaflet urging strikers to reject the proposed contract: