UAW president Shawn Fain on labor's comeback: "That is what occurs when staff get energy"

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden paid a go to to the essential battleground state of Michigan. He got here to Detroit – Motor Metropolis – to court docket union voters. Mr. Biden had simply gained the United Auto Staff’ endorsement, and he was desirous to share the highlight with UAW president Shawn Fain.

Fain informed the gang, “You recognize what the hell’s going to occur if this man’s not president, as a result of we have seen what occurs. Labor went backwards.”

“You all are those that brung me to the dance,” Mr. Biden informed union staff. “And I by no means left it.”

Fain needs to ramp up the battle over unions and staff’ rights, not simply with auto firms, however with company leaders nationwide.

Requested if he stood with Fain, President Biden mentioned, “Completely, positively. Look, I haven’t got something towards firms. They’ve simply bought to begin paying their justifiable share. The concept we have now a thousand billionaires who’re paying a median of 8.2 % in federal tax? Come on, man!”

United Auto Staff President Shawn Fain and President Joe Biden, with CBS Information chief election & marketing campaign correspondent Robert Costa. 

CBS Information

Final September, Mr. Biden was the primary sitting president to stroll a union picket line, displaying his assist for the unprecedented six-week walk-out at the entire Massive Three automotive makers. He informed the employees, “Wall Avenue did not construct this nation; the center class constructed this nation.”

The UAW went on to win historic contracts for 150,000 of its members, making Shawn Fain the standard-bearer for the labor motion’s comeback in 2023.

“That is what occurs when staff get energy,” Fain mentioned. “When the employees bought this union again, they had been capable of elect their prime management for the primary time in historical past, and we noticed large change in a brief period of time, and we’re gonna proceed to try this.”

“You’ve got shaken up the place,” mentioned Costa.

“Effectively, that is what they elected me for.”

UAW President Shawn Fain. 

CBS Information

Fain was the primary UAW president elected straight by membership, and inside months he led shutdowns on meeting strains at Ford, GM, and Chrysler/Jeep father or mother firm Stellantis. He additionally broke with custom: whereas negotiations often occurred behind closed doorways, Fain broadcast updates by way of Fb to union members and the world at massive. In a single video he exclaimed, “All three firms wished concessions on revenue sharing. And we mentioned, ‘Hell, no.’”

Fain defined, “It was necessary to us to be, , open and clear with the membership, not simply in bargaining, nevertheless it’s in all the pieces we’re doing.”

The union’s new contracts not solely make up for pay cuts staff took greater than 15 years in the past throughout the nice recession; they supply a foothold for the union in Detroit’s electrical automobile future.

Ford CEO Jim Farley just lately warned the contracts can have “a enterprise influence” on the automaker. Fain says influence is what he is all about.

A local of Kokomo, Indiana, the 55-year-old got here up the ranks as an electrician, and nonetheless carries his grandfather’s union pay stub in his pocket. “I keep in mind my grandfather speaking a couple of 110-day strike at Chrysler again in 1950 to get pensions,” he mentioned.

“For those who would have requested me after I was in highschool, ‘Are you gonna be an electrician someday?’ I might have laughed and like, are you kidding me?”

He recalled the difficulties of being on unemployment: “When my first daughter was born, we had been getting WIC. It was a humbling expertise. However experiences like that, they laid a groundwork for me for what was necessary in life and why issues mattered and why wages mattered, why having good jobs mattered, why having good advantages mattered.”

From Hollywood actors and writers, to resort and hospital staff, even neighborhood baristas, final yr’s labor protests had been like a dam bursting. From 2021 to 2023 the Massive Three automakers made greater than $100 billion in earnings (in keeping with the Financial Coverage Institute), whereas common auto employee pay has fallen practically twenty % from pre-recession ranges.

Fain mentioned, “What gave us energy on the bargaining desk was the corporate noticed how keen members had been to exit on strike, and after we had been calling vegetation to exit on strike, that vegetation that did not get known as had been upset. It was only a matter of when and the way lengthy it was gonna take, as a result of I knew our members had the resolve to make it occur. 

“That is our era’s defining second,” he mentioned.

In response to Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor at Cornell College’s Faculty of Industrial and Labor Relations, “If unions do not run the sort of campaigns that power employers to come back to the desk and discount with them, as a result of the price of not bargaining with them is bigger than the price of bargaining with them, they don’t seem to be going to have the ability to construct their energy and arrange extra staff. Staff aren’t silly; they know that the businesses weren’t going to provide them that bump.”

Bronfenbrenner notes the American public sided overwhelmingly with placing autoworkers: “That they had given large concessions in 2007. Now the businesses had been getting cash they usually weren’t sharing it. That they had risked their lives throughout COVID. And so, [Fain] did an excellent job of getting the general public to see these points. This was about one thing that was truthful, and this was simply, and that we’re residing in a time the place firms are taking an excessive amount of.”

Fain might come throughout as mild-mannered, however he additionally rails towards the “billionaire class,” and has even worn T-shirts that say “Eat the Wealthy.”

“I do not suppose billionaires ought to exist,” he mentioned. “Nobody wants that a lot cash. I believe it is inhumane. Decide any metropolis, stroll round, , you see individuals ravenous, individuals with out primary requirements. There is not any excuse for that. And it isn’t as a result of individuals are lazy or do not wish to work. The billionaires that preserve amassing increasingly more wealth, to allow them to construct rocket ships and do regardless of the hell they wish to do, that does nothing for humanity.”

“Your critics say that is class warfare,” mentioned Costa.

“Yeah, class warfare has been occurring on this nation for the final 40 years – the billionaire class has been taking all the pieces and leaving the working class with nothing,” Fain replied.  “Each time working class individuals ever step up and say, ‘That is unsuitable, we wish it to cease,’ abruptly, Oh, it is class warfare. It is the tip of the world.”

If there’s a labor conflict being waged in America, the entrance strains are within the non-union factories of the South and Midwest. Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, builds their newest electrical vehicles – and it is a prime goal of UAW organizers.

Fain informed staff in Tennessee, “When the corporate makes use of worry, we’re gonna come again with information. And these are the information: You recognize, Volkswagen made $78 billion since 2020 in revenue. They paid out $24 billion in dividends to company executives and shareholders. The CEO of Volkswagen makes $12 million a yr.”

United Auto Staff president Shawn Fain speaks outdoors Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

CBS Information

The UAW has tried twice earlier than up to now decade to arrange in Chattanooga. What’s modified since then? After the UAW’s current victories, non-union automakers (together with Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and VW) provided raises, too. However the additional pay got here with out the union’s advantages or job protections.

Fain defined coming right into a extra hostile territory: “We do not ever relaxation,” he mentioned. “Staff deserve justice.”

“Sunday Morning” was there in December when staff tried to petition administration for a gathering with organizers.

In a press release to “Sunday Morning,” Volkswagen Group of America mentioned: “Volkswagen is happy with our 5,500 workers who energy our world-class meeting plant in Chattanooga. Our tradition has been constructed via frequent, clear, and two-way dialogue with our individuals. We respect their democratic proper to decide who ought to signify their pursuits within the office with out interference, intimidation, or misinformation.”

However Volkswagen employee Shaun Lawler says skepticism of the UAW runs deep in the neighborhood. When requested how his household views unions, he replied, “They do not see it as a great alternative; they see layoffs.”

What do they name unions? “They name them communist,” Lawler mentioned.

Nonetheless, after the UAW’s success final yr, 13-year Volkswagen worker Vicky Holloway says the union’s time has come. “I actually suppose we have now an opportunity this time,” she mentioned. “Except your eyes are simply closed and your ears, and also you simply do not hear something, then you definately notice that we do want a union.”

The UAW now says a union vote in Chattanooga is approaching. It is going to be one other defining second for Shawn Fain – and for the American labor motion.

“You recognize, organized labor led the way in which for the American dream,” he mentioned. “And that is fallen by the wayside during the last 40 years. And it’s our obligation to humanity to vary that.”

And, he provides, he is not going to surrender: “In no way. That is the mission.”

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       Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

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