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UAW Seeks Higher Wages in Upcoming Contract Negotiations

When their existing labor contract expired at midnight Thursday, United Auto Workers began a strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers after being unable to navigate a major speed bump in what have been contentious negotiations: pay.

Ford, General Motors and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) have spent weeks in talks with the UAW, mulling over details of a new labor contract that also has major implications for the U.S. automotive industry. UAW President Shawn Fain said members deserve hefty pay raises, emphasizing that the auto companies have brought in billions of dollars in profit and boosted CEO pay in recent years. 

What is the average U.S. autoworker’s wage?

In general, factory workers are not salaried, but receive an hourly wage. On average, U.S. autoworkers on manufacturing production lines earned about $28 an hour in August, up $1 from the previous year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Individual auto workers’ pay varies depending on their tenure at a car manufacturer. Under the industry’s tiered wage system, more recent hires start at lower rates of pay than longer-tenured workers.

Top-tier workers — meaning anyone who joined the company in 2007 or earlier — make roughly $33 an hour on average, contract summaries for the Big Three show. Those hired after 2007 are part of the lower tier and earn up to $17 an hour based on a buildup of 6% annual raises under the last contract. 

Unlike top-tier employees, lower-tier employees don’t receive defined benefit pensions, and their health benefits are less generous. UAW members want the two-tiered pay system abolished, arguing that it reduces lower-tier coworkers to the equivalent of second-class citizens.  

Adjusting for inflation, autoworkers have seen their average wages fall 19.3% since 2008, according to Adam Hersh, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. That’s because autoworker “concessions made following the 2008 auto industry crisis were never reinstated,” Hersh said in a recent blog post, “including a suspension of cost-of-living adjustments.” 

How much money do the Big Three automaker CEOs make? 

Ford CEO Jim Farley earned $21 million in total compensation last year, the Detroit News reported, while Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares made $24.8 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. GM CEO Mary Barras tallied nearly $29 million in 2022 pay, Automotive News reported. 

Overall CEO pay at the Big Three companies rose 40% from 2013 to 2022, according to EPI.

Barras makes 362 times more than the typical GM worker, while Tavares makes 365 times more, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Farley at Ford makes 281 times more, filings show. 

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