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Why the UAW Strike is Focused on Tiered Employment and Temp Workers: The Implications for the Auto Industry


A Two-Tiered System and Temp Workers: The Crux of UAW Strike 

At $17.53 an hour, Crystal Foutner, an assembler of Jeep Wranglers, earns nearly half of what her colleagues who perform the same work do. As a supplemental employee or "temp," she finds herself on the lowest rung of a tiered employment system that discerns between full-time and temporary workers. "I want all of us to be equal because you can’t split full time and SE,” Foutner states, highlighting the shared sentiment among many UAW workers. 

With a potential UAW strike looming, the issues of tiered employment and temp workers become central. The UAW strike could potentially destabilize the Big Three automakers - General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis - that constitute about 3% of the GDP and produce nearly half of the light vehicles manufactured in the US. The UAW's focus is on eliminating tiered employment, a system solidified in the 2007 contract amidst the struggle of the auto industry. 

The Tiered Employment Structure 

The tiered employment system creates a hierarchy of full-time workers. Those hired after the 2007 contract found themselves on a "second tier" with lower wages and benefits. The temporary workers, on the other hand, are essentially on a worse third tier. 

The Big Three automakers have long used temps to keep labor costs down, with Ford and GM agreeing to convert temps to permanent roles after two years. However, Stellantis only gives temps preferential treatment when filling full-time jobs, leaving some workers in temp status for five years or more. 

The Human Cost of Tiered Employment 

Temp workers like Foutner are often left in precarious conditions, living paycheck to paycheck. Despite working 60-hour weeks, she says, “Everything went up. Rent went up. Groceries definitely went up,” highlighting the financial strain that low wages and temporary job status impose. 

The tiered system also creates a divide among the workers, eroding solidarity. Temp workers not only earn less but also miss out on annual profit-sharing checks and other bonuses that full-time UAW workers earn. Jay Kania, a temp at the Jeep factory for almost five years, has missed about $100,000 in profit-sharing and raises. 

Moreover, the long working hours with little paid time off add to the frustrations of temp workers. The mandatory 50- or 60-hour work week leaves them little time for personal or family life

Fighting for Equality and Fair Treatment 

Many full-time UAW workers see the elimination of employment tiers and fair treatment of temp workers as a primary change they want to see in the new contract. As Phil Reiter, a full-timer at the Toledo factory puts it, "My belief is, this contract needs to finally be fair for everybody.” 

While the company defends its actions by stating that it converts temps to full-time status when positions open up, the decision to shut down plants and move full-timers to other factories leaves fewer openings for temps, leading to further frustrations. 

The looming UAW strike thus becomes a rallying point for workers seeking equality, fair wages, and better working conditions. As the UAW stands at the cusp of this potential strike, the issues of tiered employment and temp workers take center stage, becoming emblematic of the broader labor landscape's challenges and the fight for workers' rights.


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