Union Victories: UAW, WAG and SAG-AFTRA, UPS

On Nov. 2, United Auto Workers (UAW) union members at a Ford factory in Wayne, Michigan approved their new contract. This union was the first to go on strike in what would become a movement that impacted several automotive factories owned by Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (the company that owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram). The terms, which are quite similar to the ones being considered by workers at General Motors and Stellantis, include a 25 percent wage increase over four-and-a-half years and an immediate 11 percent wage increase, resulting in a 150 percent wage increase for the factory’s lowest-paid part-time workers over the time period. In contrast with the UAW’s past actions, the union concurrently went on strike and negotiated with all three major American automakers, and they used notably more class-based arguments than they previously have, framing the issue as a struggle of the working people against the wealthy.

Earlier this year, both the unions representing Hollywood writers (the WGA) and Hollywood’s actors (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike over the use of AI tools in Hollywood productions and residuals earned from streaming services. While the writers' strike [ended in early October with the creation of a new three-year contract boasting large pay gains, control over studio AI use, and increased staff size, SAG-AFTRA has been unable to reach a similar settlement, continuing to strike over the use of AI likenesses in movie productions. However, it should be noted that, as of Nov. 4, SAG-AFTRA has received a new proposal from the studios that they are currently considering.

Both of these movements arose in the aftermath of the renewed contract between United Postal Service (UPS) employees and their employer, which occurred to avert a strike by the Teamsters union. This new five-year contract included increased wages and the inclusion of air conditioning in new trucks, among other gains. The quick settlement of the issue was considered by many to be a boon for the American economy, as a strike from America’s UPS workers was estimated by some experts to be capable of causing over seven billion dollars of damage to the U.S. economy over the course of just one week, due to the crucial role they play in the nation’s supply chain.

A 2013 Pew Research study found that membership in unions among the American public was at a 30-year low, yet public support for unions had increased from 46 percent in 1985 to 51 percent in 2013. Based upon these trends, it could be fairly assumed that union membership continues to be low. However, these recent union victories make the situation appear much more promising than it was 10 years ago.

These victories also represent instances in which the public strongly supported union action despite the short term impacts they may have caused. A poll conducted by Data for Progress in early August found that 67 percent of Americans (including 82 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of independents) supported the WGA strike. Due in part to the high level of publicity surrounding the writers’ strike and its success, some believe that it could have the ability to inspire other groups to attempt to unionize to improve their pay and working conditions.