Autoworkers, Actors Win New Contracts

Settlements end nationwide strikes

The past few weeks have seen the resolution of two major national strikes by American workers. TV, movie and streaming actors walked off the job in July; auto workers employed by GM, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) followed in September. Both groups of workers scored important victories, persuading their employers to address critical industry issues despite their initial resistance.

The autoworkers went into their strike with two major goals. They wanted to recover wage and benefit concessions made to the big three American auto companies during the Great Recession, and they wanted to ensure that jobs in the new EV economy were as good as those left behind manufacturing cars with internal combustion engines. After an escalating series of job actions paralleling the contract negotiations, the union won a tentative contract guaranteeing a 25% wage increases across the four-year contract, restoration of a cost of living adjustment that protects wages against inflation, and commitments from GM and Stellantis to bring their new EV Battery Plant workers into the contract. (The situation at Ford is more complicated.)

The actors also had two major concerns. The industry had long rewarded actors residual payments whenever film and television shows were rebroadcast, but the arrangements had not kept pace with the shift to streaming media. The actors also feared that producers would begin to eliminate jobs by replacing live actors with AI-generated images. The producers made little movement at the bargaining table until the actors struck in mid-July. After walking picket lines for four months they won ground on both issues. The two parties agreed to cut actors in on streaming revenues and to require actors’ consent and compensation when their images are used to generate digital replicas.

There’s a reason why Catholic Social Teaching has endorsed trade unions for more than 130 years. For most American workers, terms and conditions of employment are dictated by their employer – take it or leave it. Unions enable workers to negotiate with their employers to see their concerns addressed. Sometimes, unfortunately, workers need to collectively withhold their labor — that is, to strike — to persuade their employers to give them a fair shake. The United Auto Workers and the Screen Actors Guild have shown how this is done, how workers can make a peaceful demonstration of strength through a well-organized strike and get key needs met. The Catholic Labor Network congratulates workers in both industries on their achievements and hopes they inspire many more American workers to organize.