UAW President Shawn Fain: “It Is Long Past Time to Stand Up for the Working Class”

In a speech to United Auto Workers members on Wednesday, Shawn Fain laid into the Big Three, explained the UAW's new “stand-up strike,” and invoked the Bible to declare their battle a righteous fight for justice. We print his prepared remarks here in full.

United Automobile Workers president Shawn Fain speaks at the UAW Region 1 office in Warren, Michigan, on August 20, 2023. (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP via Getty Images)

Good evening, everyone.

Tonight, we’re going to cover a lot of ground. We’re going to review where we’re at in Big Three bargaining, and we’re going to discuss some of our possible plans for the coming days.

At the very top, I want to acknowledge there’s a lot of rumors, press reports, and talk about what we will or will not be doing. I ask that you stick with your union leadership for direction and clarity. I also want to share some personal reflections with you all about what this moment means for me personally as your president.

But before I get into all of that, I want to start things off like we always do by acknowledging our UAW [United Auto Workers] family who are out on strike.

When we say our union is back in the fight, we mean it. And it’s not just Big Three members taking action.

Just last night, 1,400 UAW members at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan walked off the job. They tried to be heard at the bargaining table. But the CEO — who made $17 million last year — isn’t listening. So they’re taking it to the street to end tiers, stop outsourcing, and win fair pay, and our team in the secretary-treasurer’s office and Regions 1 and 1D are giving them strong support.

In Region 9, more than one hundred members at UAW Local 644 started their strike this week at the Dometic Group in Royersford, Pennsylvania. Dometic made $4 billion in profit last year, but some of our members there don’t make a living wage. That ends with this strike.

Also in Region 9, the grossly overpaid CEO at West Rock Packaging, David Sewell, still hasn’t come to his senses. He raked in $22 million, but he still wants to slash the health benefits of our members.

But our members at Local 2326 in Dayton, New Jersey, are still standing strong. We will beat this bully.

The Thombert strikers in Newton, Iowa, are staying strong in their fight. They will win the fair pay, quality time with their families, and decent sick leave that they deserve.

As all these members will tell you, the UAW doesn’t back down from a fight. We are willing to do what is necessary to win justice, by any means necessary.

So it’s not surprising that as we get closer and closer to the contract expiration at the Big Three, we are seeing the companies and the corporate media increase their scare tactics. They want to say our righteous fight for a higher quality of life for the working class would “wreck the economy.” They pretend that the sky will fall if we get our fair share of the quarter of a trillion dollars the Big Three has made over the past decade.

Let’s talk facts. In just four years, Big Three profits have shot up 65 percent. Business is booming. Over that same period, CEO pay has skyrocketed by 40 percent. They’re absolutely rolling in money. Big Three spending on stock buybacks — money they lavish on Wall Street — is up a staggering 1,500 percent. It is literally off the charts.

Average new car prices are up 34 percent. They’re price gouging the hell out of the American consumer. Inflation is up 20 percent. You better believe Big Three price gouging has a lot to do with that too.

And autoworkers’ wages are up a mere 6 percent. We’ve fallen so far behind.

Finally, and this is key: the cost of labor for the Big Three is around 4–5 percent of total operations. Think about that. They could double our wages, not raise car prices, and still make billions of dollars.

They spent more enriching shareholders in a year than they spent on us in the entirety of the last contract cycle.

They want to scare the American people into thinking that autoworkers are the problem. We’re not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.

And come tomorrow night, if they force us, we’re about to make it the Big Three’s problem.

We said we were going to do things differently this round of negotiations, and I think you can all agree that we’ve kept that promise.

This summer, we launched our union’s first Big Three contract campaign in living memory and we’ve seen firsthand that our membership is fed up and fired up. Since August 17, there have been over a hundred local actions organized across our union. The whole world is watching, from local to national to international press, and talking about our righteous fight.

The public has taken notice. According to a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of the public says they side with the UAW in our fight for justice at the Big Three.

And believe me when I say that the companies have taken notice. They wouldn’t be coming to the table right now unless they really believed that they are staring down a well-organized and pissed-off workforce that is ready to do what it takes to win a strong contract.

In bargaining, we have repeatedly told the companies: September 14 is a deadline, not a reference point. We will not allow the Big Three to continue dragging out negotiations for months. The companies know what our priorities are. We’ve been clear.

They’ve made a quarter of a trillion dollars in North American profits over the last ten years. They nickel and dime our members every day.

They price gouge the American consumer. And they squeeze the US taxpayer for every dime they can get.

The Big Three can afford to immediately give us our fair share. If they choose not to, then they are choosing to strike themselves. We are not afraid to take action.

We also shook things up at the bargaining table. We have renamed our union’s economic demands, calling them “members’ demands,” because that is what they are.

And in another change from the past, we have bargained those demands in front of your full national negotiating team.

We want our elected negotiators to be there and hear firsthand what the companies say about our members and what these executives think we are worth. Because we knew the companies like to delay and because we had so many issues we wanted to address, we delivered our union’s economic demands to the Big Three far earlier than has been done in the past. Every step of the way, we have been clear, firm, and timely in what we expect out of these negotiations.

Unfortunately, the companies chose to squander the time we gave them. It took more than a month to get a response from each of them.

Two of the companies refused to even respond to our demands until we filed federal labor charges against them. When they did finally respond, what they gave us wasn’t just outrageously unrealistic, it was an insult.

Which brings me to another change we’ve made in this round of negotiations. We’ve been transparent about the bargaining process with the membership.

If we want to fight and win like never before, we need to energize, inform, and organize our members like never before. That’s why I want to take a few moments now to tell you where things stand in the negotiations. You, the members of the UAW, deserve to know where we’ve made progress, and where we haven’t made progress.

Here’s where things stand on our core members’ demands.


We need to end the broken, unjust tiers system. We believe in equal pay for equal work, that no worker should be treated like they’re second class. We’ve proposed a ninety-day progression to top rate, the restoration of pensions, and postretirement healthcare for all.

All three companies have agreed to cut our progression to top rate in half. The Big Three are now proposing a four-year progression, down from the current eight years. And all three companies have rejected our pension and retiree healthcare proposals.

[Ford CEO James] Farley told the press last night at the auto show that Ford had offered the “elimination of tiers.” That’s not true. Tiers remain at Ford under their proposal.

GM wants to continue the substandard pay for CCA [Customer Care and Aftersales] and GMCH [GM Components Holding], and Stellantis wants to continue the substandard pay at MOPAR [the parts, service, and customer care division].


In our members’ demands, we proposed significant double-digit pay raises of 40 percent to match the salary increases of the Big Three CEOs, to catch up with this brutal inflation, and to make up for decades of falling real wages in this industry.

Ford is now proposing a 20 percent raise over four and a half years. That’s up from their initial 9 percent. GM is now proposing an 18 percent raise over that period. That’s up from their initial 10 percent. And Stellantis is proposing 17.5 percent over four years. And they are proposing only lump sum bonuses for the salaried bargaining unit. That is completely unacceptable.

Altogether, we are seeing movement from the companies.

But they are still not willing to agree to the kinds of raise that will make up for inflation on top of decades of falling wages. And their proposals don’t reflect the massive profits we’ve generated for these companies.

Cost-of-Living Adjustments

We proposed the restoration of COLA: cost-of-living adjustments that would help autoworkers keep up with inflation, so we don’t get left behind economically.

Ford is now proposing returning to our old COLA formula, but with a diversion that is projected to provide less than one dollar of wage protection over the next four years. We need a COLA that meaningfully protects against inflation.

GM is now where Ford was last week, offering what I called the Coke Zero formula. That’s a COLA formula that is projected to provide zero in the way of actual raises.

Stellantis is now offering us a choice: either the deficient COLA with no projected raises, or lump sums that many workers won’t receive. That’s what they consider a choice.

Profit Sharing

We put forward a proposal to provide workers two dollars for every million dollars spent by the companies on stock buybacks and special dividends. Again, if they’ve got money for Wall Street, they sure as hell have money for the workers making the product.

All three companies are still trying to make major cuts to our profit sharing.

Ford proposed a scheme that would’ve shrunk profit-sharing checks by 21 percent over the past two years. GM’s proposal would’ve meant a 29 percent smaller check last year. Stellantis finally gave us a proposal on this topic but used an unknown internal calculation to significantly reduce profit sharing.


We have proposed ending the abuse of so-called “temps” who are exploited at low wages for years at a time and denied full benefits and wages despite working endless hours to keep these companies going. Temporary workers should be converted to full-time after ninety days with full pay, benefits, and profit sharing.

Ford is now proposing the conversion of all current temps with ninety days continuous service to full-time in-progression jobs.

GM is still where they were last week, raising the minimum temp wage to $20 an hour, but maintaining inadequate benefits and no profit sharing.

Stellantis is also wanting temps to have inadequate benefits, no profit sharing, and a $20 minimum wage, with no pathway to full-time in-progression jobs.

Job Security

We’re fighting like hell to keep good jobs in America, and to put an end to plant closures that destroy our communities and tear families apart.

That’s why we proposed strong job security language, creating the Working Family Protection Program to disincentivize the Big Three from killing jobs. We also proposed the right to strike over plant closures.

All three companies have rejected our job security proposals.

Stellantis now wants the right to close and sell eighteen facilities, including various assembly and powertrain plants and parts depots.

Work-Life Balance

We all know that living in a plant seven days a week, twelve hours a day isn’t living at all. We need real work-life balance. Autoworkers deserve a life. That’s why we’re pushing for more paid time off and holidays.

All three companies have now offered to recognize Juneteenth, a day of historic importance for our country and for our members, as a paid holiday. On top of that, Ford has for the first time offered two weeks paid parental leave to our members.

Other than that, all three companies have rejected our work-life balance proposals.


We’ve proposed significant increases to retiree pay, as the retirees, those who built our union, have gone without an increase for well over a decade now.

All three companies continue to reject all of our proposals for retirement security.

How We Win

And there you have it.

We’re making progress at each of the three negotiating tables, but as you just heard, we are still far apart on our key economic priorities.

From job security to ending tiers, from COLA to wage increases, we do not yet have offers on the table that reflect the sacrifice and contributions our members have made to these companies.

To win, we are likely going to have to take action. And just as we have approached our negotiations differently than we have in the past, we are preparing to strike these companies in a way they’ve never seen before.

But before I get into that, I wanted to get a little personal with all of you.

I’ve only been in this office as your president for five months. So many of you are still getting to know me and my approach to leadership. I want you to understand where I’m coming from as we embark on this next phase of our fight.

One of the first things I do every day when I get up is I crack open my devotional for a daily reading, and I pray. Earlier this week, I was struck by the daily reading, which seemed to speak directly to the moment we find ourselves in. It was called, “Fear and Faith.”

The commentary I read said:

Great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation.

It wasn’t logic that caused Moses to raise his staff on the bank of the Red Sea.

It wasn’t common sense that caused Paul to abandon the law and embrace grace.

And it wasn’t a confident committee that prayed in a small room in Jerusalem for Peter’s release from prison.

It was a fearful, desperate, band of believers that were backed into a corner.

It was a church with no options, a congregation of the have-nots pleading for help, and never were they stronger.

At the beginning of every act of faith, there is often a seed of fear.

When I made the decision to run for president of our union, it was a test of my faith, because I sure as hell had doubts. So I told myself: either you believe it’s possible to stand up and make a difference, or you don’t. And if you don’t believe, then shut up and stay on the sideline.

I knew in my heart that the membership felt like I did. That my union family was fed up with corrupt leadership and with company unionism. I chose to have faith in our members, and that is why I am here with all of you today.

I chose to be sworn into this office on my grandmother’s bible. I have it here with me today.

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, my grandmother’s parents couldn’t provide for their children any longer, so they dropped her and her brothers and sisters off at an orphanage. That orphanage gave her this bible. In the front of this bible, there’s an inscription that says Halston Orphanage, Greenville, Tennessee, 1933.

Years later, my grandparents were part of the millions of families who moved to the Midwest to work for the auto companies and seek out a better life. Like my grandfather’s paystubs, I’m proud to have inherited my grandma’s Bible and her faith.

I want to share with you another powerful verse from Scripture, Matthew 17:20–21. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

For years, as a member of the UAW, and even during this current round of bargaining, I have found it heartbreaking to read comments from members and retirees with such low expectations. I’ve read comments such as, “you can’t get COLA back, it’s gone forever.” Or “you can’t bargain for retirees.” Or “You’re asking for too much.”

That is company talk.

It comes from a company mindset and is the direct result of company unionism. It comes from the worst of our union’s history, of setting expectations low and settling even lower.

And for many of us, who have yet to see our union fight hard and win big, it is hard to imagine what that would look like. Making bold demands and organizing to fight for them is an act of faith. It’s an act of faith in each other.

Yes, these corporations are mountains, but together we can make them move.

I have always believed that UAW members serve a higher power. We have a mission and a calling. We fight not only for the good of our union or for the good of our members and our families. We fight for the good of the entire working class.

I believe that great things are possible, but only if we are able to shed our fear. Only if we stop letting the billionaire class define what is possible and what is realistic. They have spent decades convincing us that we are weak. Convincing us that it’s futile to fight. Convincing us that we should be grateful for the scraps they give us.

I’m here to tell you, those days are behind us and today we take the next step in leaving that past behind. But to do that, again, we must have faith in each other.

I am secure in every decision we have made because I have faith in our members. That is the mustard seed.

The idea that an everyday autoworker can take on the loftiest billionaire. That if we work hard, and work together, we can move these mountains.

So I have to ask you: Do you have faith? Are you ready to stand up together and move that mountain? Because nobody is coming to save us. Nobody can win this fight for us. Our greatest hope — our only hope — is each other.

I’m at peace with the decision to strike if we have to because I know that we are on the right side in this battle. It’s the battle of the working class against the rich, the haves versus the have-nots, the billionaire class against everyone else.

Again, I’m reminded of Mathew 19:23–24, which states: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Why is it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? I have to believe that the answer, at least in part, is because in the kingdom of God, no one hoards all the wealth while others suffer or starve. In the kingdom of God, no one puts themselves in a position of total domination over entire communities. In the kingdom of God, no one forces others to perform endless, backbreaking work just to feed their families or put a roof over their heads.

That world is not the kingdom of God. That world is a kind of hell. Living paycheck to paycheck is hell. Choosing between medicine and rent is hell. Working seven days a week for twelve hours a day for months on end is hell. Having your plant close down and your family scattered across the country is hell. Being made to work during a pandemic and not knowing if you might get sick and die or spread the disease to your family is hell.

Enough is enough. It’s time to decide what kind of a world we want to live in. And it’s time to decide what we are willing to do to get there.

The strike plan we are about to roll out is driven by this faith, that together we can and will move mountains.

I should start by saying it is the result and culmination of the work of all of your [International Executive Board] leadership and many staff, such as our amazing legal team, research team, organizing team, communication team, political team, and many other staff.

So let’s get into it. Like I said, we are going to be doing things differently this time around.

First of all, for the first time in our history, we may strike all three of the Big Three at once. Our message to the companies was clear: if we don’t have a fair contract by midnight on Thursday night, we will strike.

The second big difference is the way we are going to strike is going to be very different. In fact, we are inventing a whole new way to strike. We call it “the stand-up strike.”

The name “stand-up strike,” of course, recalls the movement that built our great union, the sit-down strikes of 1937. Just as in the 1930s, we’re living in a time of stunning inequality throughout our society. We’re living in a time where our industry is undergoing massive transformations. And we’re living in a time where our labor movement is redefining itself.

In the spirit of the sit-down strike, the stand-up strike will keep the companies guessing. It will rely on discipline, organization, and creativity.

The stand-up strike begins with all of our locals, from parts distribution centers to assembly plants maintaining a constant strike-readiness. It’s really important that we are clear on this point: We will not strike all of our facilities at once. We will strike all three companies — a historic first — at a limited number of targeted locations that I will announce. Then, based on what is happening in bargaining, I may announce more locals that are being called on to stand up and strike. These locals will join those that are already on strike, so that our strike at each company will grow over time.

Again, our goal is not to strike. Our goal is to reach a fair agreement. But if the companies continue to bargain in bad faith or continue to stall or continue to give us insulting offers, then our strike will grow.

At the beginning, only a select few will strike. Then, as needed, more will join. We will hit where we need to hit, when we need to hit, to move mountains.

If your local is not named, then you are not yet on strike. We will communicate with regional directors and local leadership, who will walk their membership out if and only if they are called to do so.

The plan now is that this Thursday, at 10 pm ET, I will be hosting a Facebook Live and announcing which locals are being called on to stand up and go out on strike starting at midnight if we don’t have a deal.

As soon as those locals are named, all locals will be notified about whether they are to stand up and strike, or to maintain strike readiness through rallies, supporting active picket lines, red-shirt days, and organizing our communities.

If your local is called to go on strike, you will walk your members out according to your local leadership’s directions. If your local is not called to go on strike, you will continue working, while continuing to organize actions. I want to be clear: these are strikes over the national agreement, not local agreements.

After this first round of locals going out on strike, we will be calling on other locals to go on strike based on what is happening in bargaining. We are maintaining maximum flexibility to make the decision on who all is going out next. We could call on multiple locals to stand up and go out on strike all at once or call on them one at a time. We could do this multiple times a week or only once.

This is going to provide your national negotiators with incredible leverage at the bargaining table. If the companies give us an insulting offer, if they keep playing games, if they refuse to bargain in good faith, then we have the power to keep escalating and to keep taking plants out.

To prepare, we will be lining up several possible locals at once. Local leaders will receive notification ahead of time that they are one of the locals in the queue that may soon be asked to stand up and go on strike. But the final decision won’t be made until soon before the announcement.

Your local will only strike if you are called by national leadership to do so. This will be explicit and clear. Local leadership will walk members out of the plant if they are called to stand up and go on strike. If your local is not called, you are to keep working. This is extremely important.

You will be working under an expired agreement, not an extension. We have resources available on our website explaining what it means to work under an expired agreement. I know this is new for us, but many unions do this.

But this plan only works if the locals who are called to strike do so and if the locals who are not yet called do not strike and keep working.

This will create confusion for the companies. It’s going to keep them guessing on what might happen next. And it’s going to turbocharge the power of our negotiators.

To be as effective as possible, it’s important that the locals that are not on strike keep organizing actions. Keep organizing red-shirt days, parking-lot rallies, protests, and community events. Show the companies that you are ready to go out on a moment’s notice.

So if we don’t have an agreement at each of the Big Three by midnight on Thursday night, your local will do one of two things. If and only if you are called directly by national UAW leadership, you will walk your local out on strike and maintain the picket line.

If you are not called to strike, your members will keep working. You will organize rallies, sticker days, and red-shirt days. You will do everything you can without stopping work to show the company and the public that you are ready. But you will not strike until called. You will work under an expired agreement, as we will discuss in a moment.

So, to recap:

At midnight on Thursday, we will be prepared to strike the Big Three, using a new tactic: the stand-up strike. The stand-up strike is our generation’s answer to the sit-down strike of the 1930s.

It is time — it is long past time — to stand up for the working class. To stand up for our communities. And to stand up against unchecked corporate greed.

Like the sit-down strike, this strike requires us to be very disciplined. That means that if your local is not called, then you are not to go on strike.

But just because you keep working that doesn’t mean you stop organizing. We do want you to organize flying squadrons and turning out members to picket lines at striking plants. We do want you to talk to the media and connect your own personal stories to our fight to end tiers, to win COLA, to stop plant closures. But do not stop working unless you are explicitly called on to stop.

And I want to make one other point about this strategy very clear.

I know that there is a hunger out there among some of you to go on strike in every plant and facility all at once at all three of these companies. And believe me when I tell you, I completely understand that desire.

The beauty of the stand-up strike is that it provides us maximum flexibility moving forward. We are keeping all of our options open as we continue to bargain with the companies. So an all-out strike is still possible. Our options are open.

We are not going to just stand by as corporate executives and the rich continue to make extraordinary profits while the rest of us continue to get left further and further behind, at the Big Three and beyond.

Instead, we’re going to stand up and make history together. In the event we go on strike at midnight on Thursday night, we will not be bargaining on the fifteenth. Your vice presidents and national negotiators will be joining you in action. And for those of who want to come to Detroit, we will be holding a mass rally on Friday at the UAW–Ford Joint Trust building.

We selected this site, because it is one of the many locations that the Big Three have proposed be closed during negotiations. We have been clear with Ford: we won’t accept any concessions in this round of negotiations. Our jobs are off limits.

We are asking everyone to plan to be in downtown Detroit at 4, and the rally starts at 5. Again, that’s this Friday, September 15.

We want to show our strength and unity on the first day of this historic action. Several regions are arranging for bus travel from regional offices. We will have more information out to all of you very soon.

If you cannot be in Detroit, you should be organizing your own rallies and actions for Friday and throughout the weekend. Whether your local is on strike or on notice, we need all hands on deck.

So tonight, I want you to reflect on how far we’ve come. I want you to talk to your families, to your friends, and to your union family. I want you to talk about what this fight means for you. For your future. For your community.

And tomorrow night, I want you to be ready to stand up. I want you to be ready to stand up for your family. I want you to be ready to stand up for your community. I want you to be ready to stand up against corporate greed.

Let’s stand up and make history.

Thank you.