As UAW strike looms, auto workers want 4-day, 32-hour workweek, among other contract demands

As UAW strike looms, auto workers want 4-day, 32-hour workweek, among other contract demands

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United Auto Workers – the union that represents workers at the Big 3 automakers in Detroit – are threatening to strike over stalled contract negotiations. One of the changes the union wants to see is a four-day workweek, working 32 hours for 40 hours of pay.

UAW President Shawn Fain gave an address last month on Facebook Live, explaining the demands of the union. “Our members are working 60, 70, even 80 hours a week just to make ends meet. That’s not living. It’s barely surviving and it needs to stop,” he said.

After receiving a contract proposal from Ford, which Fain said “insults our very worth,” he gave another address on the platform.

“The labor movement once fought for a vision of work life in which everyone had 8 hours for work, 8 hours rest, and 8 hours recreation,” he said. “Sadly, it feels like we’ve gone so far backwards that we have to fight just to have the 40-hour workweek back.”

Advocating for shorter workweeks is not a new concept for auto workers. Congress amended federal labor laws in 1940, limiting the workweek to 40 hours, but nearly 15 years earlier, Ford Motors became one of the first companies to implement a 40-hour week.

In an interview with In These Times, a monthly progressive publication, Fain said he learned that UAW had advocated for 35- and 32-hour workweeks back in the 1930s and 1940s. “And you know, 80 years later, in bargaining in 2019, our leadership was agreeing to seven-day, 12-hour schedules,” Fain said. 

“I don’t consider [a 30-hour workweek] ambitious. I consider it almost a human rights issue,” he said, adding that many workers’ health has been impacted by the long hours, with some suffering injuries. “That’s the reality of standing there on assembly lines working day after day, seven days a week, 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day.”

UAW isn’t the first group that has advocated for four-day workweeks – and in some industries, the change has been made. 

Hundreds of U.S. school districts have adopted a four-day workweek, including Independence School District in Missouri, one of the largest districts in the state to implement the change. Superintendent Dale Herl told CBS News earlier this year that 35 minutes will be added to each day to make up for the loss of Mondays, and childcare on Mondays will be offered for $30 a day.

The four-day school week helps schools experiencing a teacher shortage recruit staff. “The number of teaching applications that we’ve received have gone up more than four-fold,” Herl said. 

The change for a shorter week may be a result of the pandemic, when workers in some industries found a better work-life balance while working from home. A survey from the International Foundation of Employment found that 75% of corporate and single employers have employees working remotely on certain days of the week. 

And while 80% are not considering a four-day workweek, 14% are, with 1% already implementing pilot programs and another 1% formally implementing the change.

Nearly 70% of employers that are considering a four-day workweek come from five industries: manufacturing or distribution, health care and medicine, professional service firms, nonprofits and high technology, according to the survey. 

The main reasons employers are not adopting four-day workweeks? Lack of interest by upper management, difficulty implementing it organization worldwide, unsure if it would work with organizational structure and concern that it would hurt business operations, the survey showed.

What are UAW’s other demands?

The four-day workweek is just one part of the UAW’s demands for the Big 3 – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler. The union also wants big pay raises – which Fain says the Big 3 can afford, since their CEOs saw a 40% pay increase on average in the last four years. They also want more paid time off and a benefit pension, among other things. 

They also want to restore COLA – cost of living adjustments – that ensure the working class receives the benefits needed to survive in the current economy. COLA is used by the Social Security Administration, which increased benefits for 70 million people by 8.7 percent in 2023.

UAW says 65 Big 3 plants have been closed in the last 20 years, which they say devastates hometowns. The union wants to implement a “working family protection program” that pays UAW to do community service work if the companies shut down a facility.

The strike of more than 140,000 union members is looming and the automakers have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday to reach an agreement.  

How much do UAW workers make?

In one of his addresses, Fain said the Big 3 raked in a combined $21 billion in profits in the first six months of 2023. “Record profits mean record contracts,” Fain said.

UAW wants Ford and GM’s full-time assembly plant workers to make $32.32 an hour and Stellantis’ full-time employees to make $31.77 an hour. 

Fain said starting wages have decreased from 2007, when new workers made $19.60 an hour, or $28.96 an hour to account for inflation. Now, starting wages are $18.04 an hour.

In 2007 it took three years to reach $28 an hour – now, it takes about eight years to reach $32 an hour. 

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