Shawn Fain, President of the United Auto Workers union, is pressing for a 32-hour work week in ongoing talks in Detroit’s Big Three automaker contract negotiations, with a looming strike deadline at 11:59pm Thursday.
The UAW represents General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis workers, including 46,000 at GM, 57,000 at Ford and about 42,000 at Stellantis.
Fain says he discovered the history of the UAW’s idea of a shorter workweek in UAW magazines from the 1930s and 1940s, and the concept has been tested recently in widely publicized trials.
- Microsoft ran a month-long trial in Japan in 2019, and noted 40% increased productivity. More recently, dozens of companies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe have reported trials that were deemed successful.
- A non-profit 4 Day Work Week Global has found success in trials that proved workers happier and more productive. While not many of the participating companies were line production businesses, the researchers say the extra day off can provide rest from physically taxing jobs.
While today’s workweek is limited to 40 hours per week by the 1940 Fair Labor Standards Act, the reality is that autoworkers are putting in 70 hours per week.
One Stellantis line worker in Toledo, Ohio, Jerry Coleman, has worked at the Jeep plant since 2017 as a temporary employee. For most of that time, he’s worked seven days a week, 10 hours a day, a grueling routine that has cost him important family time.
Coleman earns $19.76 an hour, plus overtime. He’s hoping the new contract will speed his path to becoming a permanent employee, with better pay and benefits and more say over his hours.
Other UAW demands include:
Pay raises: 20% immediate increases, with four additional 5% raises for four years — in total, a 46% increase.
Pensions and retiree benefits, COLAs: Workers hired before 2007 still have those benefits, but newer hires do not.
Job protections, benefits and limits: The UAW wants limits on the use of lower-paid, temporary workers and forced overtime; and the right to strike over plant closures.
Transition to EVs: While EVs are expected to be a growing demand, they will require about 30% less labor, making them more profitable. As members lose their jobs building gasoline engines and transmissions, they should be able to shift to jobs building EV batteries and other parts, with equal pay.