Amid Strikes, Some Question UAW Leader's End Game

Shawn Fain is famously combative, and worries grow he will refuse any compromise
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 23, 2023 8:20 AM CDT
Amid Strikes, Some Question UAW Leader's End Game
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, center left, stands for pictures with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, bottom center, after a rally for striking workers at UAW Local 551, on Oct. 7, 2023, in Chicago.   (John J. Kim /Chicago Tribune via AP, File)

Throughout its 5-week-old strikes against Detroit's automakers, the United Auto Workers union has cast an emphatically combative stance, reflecting the style of its pugnacious leader, Shawn Fain. Armed with a list of what even Fain has called "audacious" demands for better pay and benefits, the UAW leader has embodied the exasperation of workers who say they've struggled for years while the automakers have enjoyed billions in profits, per the AP. Yet as the strikes have dragged on, analysts and even some striking workers have begun to raise a pivotal question: Does Fain have an endgame to bring the strikes to a close?

People with personal ties to Fain say his approach, on the picket lines and at the bargaining table, reflects the bluntly straightforward manner he developed as he rose through the union's ranks. He is, they say, the right man for the moment. Others, though, say they worry that Fain set expectations too high on what he can extract from the companies, including better pay and benefits, and an expansion of the UAW to non-union rivals such as Tesla and Toyota USA. "He's gotten far more from the companies than anyone, in particular the companies, may have expected," said labor expert Harley Shaiken of the University of California Berkeley. "But now is the critical point where you pull the package together. If it isn't now, when will it be? That is what he's got to be giving some thought to."

What began with 7,000 workers at one factory each of Ford, General Motors, and Jeep-maker Stellantis has grown to 34,000 at six plants and 38 parts warehouses across the country. Three auto officials, who asked that they and their companies not be identified, say they remain unsure whether Fain has a clear plan to end the strikes or whether he'll cling to demands that the companies say would be so costly as to jeopardize their ability to invest in the future. Striking worker Dawn Krunzel of Toledo, Ohio, said some workers on the picket line are starting to worry about their personal finances. "I'm hoping Fain is smart enough to say, 'Enough is enough,'" she said. "You never get everything you want." Read the full story, which includes sentiment from workers who back Fain's tough negotiating tactics with CEOs he often derides as out-of-touch billionaires.

(More Shawn Fain stories.)

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