The United Auto Workers union overwhelmingly ratified a new contract with Ford, a pact that, along with similar deals with General Motors and Stellantis, will raise pay across the industry, force automakers to absorb higher costs and help reshape the auto business as it shifts away from gasoline-fueled vehicles.
Workers at Ford voted 69.3% in favor of the pact, which passed with nearly a 15,000-vote margin in balloting that ended early Saturday. Earlier this week, GM workers narrowly approved a similar contract. At Stellantis, 68.7% of workers favored ratification, an insurmountable lead with votes at only two small facilities left to be counted.
The agreements, which run through April 2028, will end contentious talks that began last summer and led to six-week-long strikes at all three automakers. Shawn Fain, the pugnacious new UAW leader, had branded the companies enemies of the UAW who were led by overpaid CEOs, declaring the days of union cooperation with the automakers were over.
After summerlong negotiations failed to produce a deal, Fain kicked off strikes on September 15 at one assembly plant at each company. The union later extended the strike to parts warehouses and other factories to try to intensify pressure on the automakers until tentative agreements were reached late in October.
The new contract agreements were widely seen as a victory for the UAW. The companies agreed to dramatically raise pay for top-scale assembly plant workers, with increases and cost-of-living adjustments that would translate into 33% wage gains. Top assembly plant workers are to receive immediate 11% raises and will earn roughly $42 an hour when the contracts expire in April 2028.
Under the agreements, the automakers also ended many of the multiple tiers of wages they had used to pay different workers. They also agreed in principle to bring new electric-vehicle battery plants into the national union contract. This provision will give the UAW an opportunity to unionize the EV battery plants, which will represent a rising share of industry jobs in the years ahead.
“I think this is a huge win for the UAW that they got all three contracts ratified,” said Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University. “It’s lifting the boats of all or many autoworkers.”
Three nonunion, foreign automakers in the United States — Honda, Toyota and Hyundai — quickly responded to the UAW contract by raising wages for their factory workers. They did so after Fain said the UAW would mount an aggressive effort to unionize their plants. He also said the union would try to recruit workers at Tesla.
Foreign automakers have argued in the past that their workers earn about the same as UAW members, thereby negating the need for a union. They also have accused the UAW of forcing GM and the former Chrysler into bankruptcy in 2009 and of engaging in corruption after federal prosecutors broke up a wide-ranging bribery and embezzlement scandal starting in 2017.
But with Fain’s election and the new contracts, the union has “cured or readjusted all of that rhetoric,” Wheaton said.
While wages at nonunion factories may be nearly equal, he said, UAW workers receive far better health care and retirement benefits, which is likely to be attractive to workers at nonunion plants as they age.
Contracts with the auto companies should also lead to higher wages at auto-parts supply companies and in other industries, Wheaton said.
“The union’s got way more power” because of the deals, said Mark McGill, a 67-year-old worker at Ford’s assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, where employees went on strike for the entire six weeks. “Look at everybody now. People want to unionize.”