The following is a transcript of an interview with United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain that aired on “Face the Nation” on Sept. 17, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain. Good morning to you, sir. You have said that you had “reasonably productive” conversations with Ford yesterday. Does that mean they’re going to put a more generous offer on the table?
UAW PRESIDENT SHAWN FAIN: Good morning, thanks for having us, and, you know, that’s up to them. That’s- you know, the reason we’re in this situation right now is because all three of the Big Three companies chose to wait. They chose not to negotiate for the eight weeks we had. We started this back in July and we told them then, don’t wait until the last minute, or you’re going to find yourself in a bad position. And unfortunately, they chose to wait to the last week to get down and start talking to get serious about this and that’s where we are now. And if we don’t get better offers, and we don’t get down to taking care of the members’ needs then we’re going to amp this thing up even more.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you said progress is slow. Will you order strikes at additional plants this week? Are you preparing for that?
SHAWN FAIN: We’re prepared to do whatever we have to do, so the membership is ready, the membership is fed up, we’re fed up with falling behind. It’s been decades of falling behind. In- in- in especially this past decade, in the- the most wealthiest times in the history of these companies, there is no excuse. These companies have made a quarter of a trillion dollars in the last 10 years, $21 billion in the last six months alone, and our workers wages and conditions have went backwards.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re asking for 36% pay raises our reporter just laid out there. Stellantis said they’ve offered 21%. What are you expecting out of tomorrow’s negotiation with them? That seems forward movement.
SHAWN FAIN: We’ve- we’ve asked for 40% pay increases and the reason we asked for 40% pay increases is because in the last four years alone, the CEO pay went up 40%. They’re already millionaires. You know, it’s shameful that, you know, one of- the one of the leaders of the- one of the corporations sitting in his second home in Acapulco, while we’re bargaining rather than being at the bargaining table. And so, you know, our demands are just- we’re asking for our fair share in this economy and the fruits of our labor.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So 21% is a no go for you?
SHAWN FAIN: It’s definitely a no go. And we’ve made that very clear to the companies.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ford’s CEO said last November that electric vehicles are going to require 40% less labor to produce than combustion vehicles. I know what may not be the intention, but I wonder how you think this transition to electric vehicles may be eating away at your union’s strength.
SHAWN FAIN: Well, I don’t believe it’s eating away at our union’s strength. It is the way it is right now, unfortunately. This is- this is what’s wrong with our economy and this is what’s wrong with America right now. The billionaire class keeps taking more and more and the working class keeps getting left behind. And the unfortunate part in this transition right now, like always, go back to the- go back to the great recession. The banks got bailed out by our taxpayer dollars and they just kept on doing what they do while working class people’s homes got foreclosed on. Go back to–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –Automakers got bailed out too.
SHAWN FAIN: Yes, automakers got bailed out.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And taxpayers lost money on that.
SHAWN FAIN: The workers were unfairly- the workers were unfairly blamed for everything that was wrong with those companies. It was bad- bad decisions on the parts of the companies that put us in that position. And the sad reality is, you know, the workers paid the price for that, we made all the- all the- all the sacrifices. And after a decade of massive profits, the workers have went backwards, our wages went backwards, our benefits have went backwards. The majority of our members have zero retirement security now. And well, meanwhile, it’s insulting that a CEO gets on air this last- in the last few days and says that her $29 million salary is justified by her performance. No, it’s not. It’s justified by the performance of the worker, on the backs of the workers, and by paying them poverty wages. And that’s unacceptable in this country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I know, you’ve also said, though, it’s a shell game to talk about, you know, CEOs handing back part of their money. You’re talking about something that’s more fundamental to the structure of this entire sector of the economy. And that’s why I’m asking you about the transition, because many of the factories in this country that make batteries for those electric vehicles are not unionized. And that is where the White House is pushing the industry to go, more towards those electric vehicles. Is it- is that- isn’t that part of this challenge for you leverage-wise?
SHAWN FAIN: So, the challenge is, you know, where we’re going to go as a country, you know, again, I get back to this point. Our tax dollars are financing a massive portion of this transition to EV. We believe in a green economy. We have to have clean water, we have to have clean air. Anyone that doesn’t believe global warming is happening isn’t- isn’t paying attention. But this transition has to be a just transition and a just transition means, if our tax dollars are going to finance this transition, then labor can’t be left behind. And as it stands right now, the workers are being left behind. The companies want to talk about being competitive. It’s not about being competitive. Competitive is the code word for race to the bottom. What they want is they want to pay us poverty wages, so they can keep on making billions more in profits. And they can keep enriching the shareholders and the CEOs and the corporate executives, while the workers pay the- pay the- pay the price for it and get left behind. That’s got to stop in this country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ford has said that your demands would more than double the labor costs, which are already significantly higher than the labor costs at Tesla, at Toyota, and other foreign owned automakers who don’t use union labor. So how do you make the case that these automakers need to keep investing in more expensive union shops rather than move to these Right-to-Work states?
SHAWN FAIN: First off, labor costs are about 5% of the cost of the vehicle. They could double our wages and not raise the price of the vehicles and still make billions in profits. It’s a choice. And the fact that they want to compare it to how pitiful Tesla pays their workers and other companies pay their workers. That’s what this whole argument’s about. Workers in this country got to decide if they want a better life for themselves, instead of scraping to get by paycheck to paycheck, while everybody else walks away with the loot. And, you know, when we bargain good contracts- going back to the founding of this union, people join the UAW because we set the standard. People join unions because it’s a better way of life. And that’s what we got to do. We have to bargain a good contract. And then we’re gonna go organize these places and bring these workers in so they get their fair share of the economy that they get nothing of right now. Most of these workers in those companies are scraping to get by so that greedy CEOs and greedy people like Elon Musk can build more rocket ships and shoot herself in outer space. And that’s unacceptable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden says he’s the most pro-union president in American history, but you haven’t endorsed him. What is it going to take for you to do that?
SHAWN FAIN: Our endorsements are going to be earned. We’ve been very clear about that, no matter what politician.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How does he earn it?
SHAWN FAIN: We expect action- we expect action, not words. And, you know, this- this fight we’re in right now. I mean, obviously, you know, people are talking about them trying to interject themselves into our- into our negotiations. You know, this, this negotiating- our negotiators are fighting hard. Our leadership’s fighting hard. It’s going to be won at the negotiating table with our negotiating teams, with our members manning the picket lines and our allies out there. Who the president is now, who the former president was or the president before them isn’t going to win this fight. This fight is all about one thing. It’s about workers winning their fair share of economic justice instead of being left behind as they have been in the last decades.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be watching closely. Shawn, thank you for your time today.