UAW deals 'groundbreaking': Reich
Wage gains won by the union representing U.S. auto workers after a six-week strike are “ground-breaking if not earth-shattering,” according to prominent labour commentator Robert Reich, who predicts unionization efforts will soon spread to other automakers.
“It marks a really substantial increase, not only in wages, but cost of living adjustments,” Reich, a university professor and former U.S. secretary of labour told BNN Bloomberg in a Tuesday television interview.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) reached a tentative agreement with General Motors Co. on Monday, ending a weeks-long strike spanning multiple states. The union had already reached tentative deals with Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV. Agreements with the three automakers have yet to be ratified.
The agreements came as the Canadian divisions of the Big Three reached their own tentative deals with Unifor, the union representing Canada’s autoworkers.
Reich said that in the U.S., the UAW is now likely to go after the country’s other automakers without unionized labour forces.
“I would expect that very, very soon, we are going to see the UAW target Tesla, and also the U.S. divisions of some of the foreign automakers like Honda, Toyota, and BMW,” he said.
Reich said that historically, when unions make progress on wages and benefits, non-unionized players in the industry tend to offer increases of their own in order to keep unions out.
“I don't know what's going to happen, but undoubtedly, the pressure is going to be increasing,” he said.
Reich said worker productivity in the auto industry has steadily increased over the last few decades, but traditional ways of measuring it have become less effective due to the increased use of technology in the industry.
He argued that when real worker productivity is taken into account, wages are still far behind where they should be.
“I don't think there's any question that workers are substantially more productive than they were, say 10 years ago, and yet their wages have not really kept up,” Reich argued.
“That statement could be not only the last 10 years, in terms of relevance, but really the last 40 years.”
Reich said that when adjusted for inflation, wages for workers in the auto industry and other manufacturing sectors have been relatively stagnant for decades, even as profits have risen.
“I think that has generated a very strong, built up desire on the part of workers, and really on the part of the public in general, to increase the wages of these people,” he said.
Reich said that as artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues to seep into the labour landscape in the U.S. and across the world, it’s going to create a “big issue” when it comes to the bargaining power of workers.
He said he expects AI will challenge and eventually replace not just hourly and industrial workers, but professionals across the board, including himself.
“We’re going to lose bargaining leverage. Most of us professors and everybody who is part of the knowledge economy, we are going to be replicated and substitutable by artificial intelligence,” he said.
“Not immediately, but certainly that looks like it is in the cards.”