Automakers question UAW strike motives after leaked messages

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UAW President Shawn Fain (center) marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit after a rally in support of United Auto Workers members as they strike the Big Three auto makers on September 15, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

DETROIT – Major automakers are calling into question the United Auto Workers’ motives in launching targeted strikes in light of leaked messages by a union director calling to “keep them wounded for months.”

The private group messages on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, show UAW communications director Jonah Furman discussing the union’s public posturing of issues and targeted strikes as causing “recurring reputations damage and operational chaos” to the automakers.

The messages, which were viewed by CNBC and first reported Thursday by The Detroit News, don’t align with UAW President Shawn Fain’s public statements that the union has been negotiating in good faith and is available “24/7 to bargain a deal.”

“It’s now clear that the UAW leadership has always intended to cause months-long disruption, regardless of the harm it causes to its members and their communities,” General Motors said in an emailed statement. “The leaked information calls into question who is actually in charge of UAW strategy and shows a callous disregard for the seriousness of what is at stake.”

Executives with the automakers, including GM CEO Mary Barra and Ford Motor CEO Jim Farley, publicly voiced frustration with the union’s bargaining, or lack thereof, ahead of a union-imposed strike deadline at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14.

Ford communications chief Mark Truby said in a statement Friday the leaked messages are “disappointing, to say the least, given what is at stake for our employees, the companies and this region.”

Chrysler-parent Stellantis described the messages as “incredibly disturbing” and said they “strongly indicate that the UAW’s approach to these talks is not in the best interest of the workforce.”

“We are disappointed that it appears our employees are being used as pawns in an agenda that is not intended to meet their needs,” Stellantis said in an emailed statement.

Furman, who has been readily available during the negotiations, did not immediately respond for comment Friday. Calls to his phone went directly to a full voicemail.

In response to The Detroit News, Furman would not confirm writing the messages but according to the paper, called them “private messages” that “you shouldn’t have.”

Furman, a former staff writer and organizer for Labor Notes, is involved with the union’s messaging, media communications, speech writing and internal communications.

The leaked messages come as Fain on Friday announced additional plants the union plans to strike as part of its “stand-up strikes,” a nod to historic “sit-down” strikes by the UAW in the 1930s.

In one message, Furman describes Fain, who has touted faith and worship in recent messages to union members, as “our folksy gen x class struggle Christian white dude from Indiana who quotes Malcom X.”

The expanded strikes come despite record contract offers from the automakers, including roughly 20% hourly wage increases, thousands of dollars in bonuses, retention of the union’s platinum health care and other sweetened benefits.

The union has demanded 40% hourly pay increases, a shortened workweek, a shift back to traditional pensions, the elimination of compensation tiers and a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, among other contract improvements.

Each of the automakers said they will continue to collectively bargain with UAW negotiators in an attempt to reach tentative agreements for the 146,000 autoworkers under the contracts.

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