The United Automobile Workers union on Friday significantly raised the pressure on General Motors and Stellantis, the parent of Jeep and Ram, by expanding its strike against the companies to include all the spare-parts distribution centers of the two companies.
By widening the strike to the distribution centers, which supply parts to dealerships for repairs, the union is effectively taking its case to consumers, some of whom might find it difficult or impossible to have their cars and trucks fixed. The strategy could pressure the automakers to make more concessions to the union, but it could backfire on the union by frustrating car owners and turning them against the U.A.W.
Shawn Fain, the union’s president, said Friday that workers at 38 distribution centers at the two companies would walk off the job. He said talks with two companies had not progressed significantly, contrasting them with Ford Motor, which he said had done more to meet the union’s demands.
“We will shut down parts distribution centers until those two companies come to their senses and come to the bargaining table,” Mr. Fain said.
The affected locations include 18 G.M. distribution centers that employ a total of 3,475 workers, and 20 Stellantis centers with 2,150 U.A.W. members, according to the union. The move brings the total number of striking U.A.W. workers to more than 18,000.
“Today’s strike escalation by the U.A.W.’s top leadership is unnecessary,” G.M. said in a statement on Friday. “We have contingency plans for various scenarios and are prepared to do what is best for our business, our customers and our dealers.”
Stellantis said in a statement on Friday that the union’s leaders seemed “more concerned about pursuing their own political agendas than negotiating in the best interests of our employees.” The automaker added that it had made an offer that included a 21.4 percent compounded raise, over four years, for full-time employees.
The union said it was not striking more facilities at Ford because of the gains it had achieved in talks with that company. “To be clear, we are not done at Ford,” Mr. Fain said. “We have serious issues to work through, but we do want to recognize that Ford is serious about reaching a deal.”
Ford said in a statement that it was “working diligently” to reach a deal but that it and the union were still far apart on issues like wages. “Although we are making progress in some areas, we still have significant gaps to close on the key economic issues,” the company said. “In the end, the issues are interconnected and must work within an overall agreement that supports our mutual success.”
President Biden will travel to Michigan on Tuesday to lend support to striking U.A.W. members, according to two people familiar with the planning. Earlier on Friday, Mr. Fain invited the president to join workers on the picket line.
Mr. Biden strongly supported U.A.W. members in remarks at the White House last week. But the union has at times expressed unease with the president’s policy on electric vehicles and has withheld its endorsement in the 2024 presidential race. The union usually endorses the Democratic candidate.
The shutdown of parts distribution is likely to hurt dealers’ ability to repair and maintain vehicles, said Arthur Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“These days, there are no inventories of parts sitting in dealerships, so if dealers need parts, they won’t be able to get them,” he said. “It won’t stop G.M. and Stellantis from making cars, but the dealers will be mad and customers will be mad.”
Auto mechanics said the supply of spare parts, which was significantly disrupted during the pandemic, would become even more strained now.
Alan Heriford, owner of JoCo Auto Repair in Merriam, Kan., said he had been told that he would not get a module for a G.M. truck in his shop for six to eight months. Normally the modules costs $500, but used and salvaged units are now selling for about $3,000.
“The dealership said they don’t know when they’re going to be in,” Mr. Heriford said. Independent repair shops like his often have to buy new parts from the automakers’ authorized dealerships.
His customers have already begun asking him how the strikes will affect repair jobs. “You’re not going to tell somebody it’s all going to be all right, because it might not be,” he said.
By targeting only the distribution centers owned by G.M. and Stellantis, the U.A.W. appears to be rewarding Ford for showing a greater willingness to move closer to the union’s demands. Mr. Fain said Ford had agreed to adjust workers’ pay in response to inflation, increase their profit-sharing bonuses, allow the right to strike over plant closures and convert all current temporary workers to full-time status.
Mr. Fain said G.M.’s and Stellantis’s offers on those fronts were unacceptable.
Professor Wheaton said the union was using a “carrot and stick” approach. In the union’s view, “Ford is trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Still, tensions between the union and the automakers have been running high and flared up even before Mr. Fain announced the expansion of the strike. On Thursday, private messages sent by a union communications manager through X, formerly known as Twitter, seemed to suggest that the union leaders were pleased that the strike appeared to be hurting the three manufacturers.
Jonah Furman, who was hired to direct the U.A.W.’s media relations after Mr. Fain took office this year, wrote in the messages that the strike was causing the automakers to suffer “reputations damage and operational chaos.”
The contents of the messages were revealed in The Detroit News.
G.M. said in a statement that the leaked messages showed a “callous disregard for the seriousness of what is at stake” in the strike.
“It’s now clear that the U.A.W. leadership has always intended to cause monthslong disruption, regardless of the harm it causes to its members and their communities,” the company added.
The U.A.W. declined to comment.
The expansion of the stoppage heightens the stakes for both sides, and could force other plants owned by the automakers and their suppliers to halt production. All three companies have said they have had to suspend production and lay off workers who were not part of the strikes that the U.A.W. called last week because of the disruptions caused by those strikes.
The union is paying striking workers $500 per week each from its $825 million strike fund, while the manufacturers are faced with losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue every day that the affected plants remain idled.
According to a report from the Anderson Economic Group, the economic cost of the first week of the strike was $1.6 billion, including more than $500 million in corporate losses and more than $100 million in lost wages, not counting what was made up in strike pay.
A week ago, the union called on workers to strike at a G.M. pickup truck plant in Wentzville, Mo.; a Ford factory in Michigan that makes the Bronco sport utility vehicle; and a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, owned by Stellantis.
The union is seeking a substantial increase in wages, noting that the automakers have reported strong profits in the last 10 years and have raised the pay of their chief executives. The union initially demanded a 40 percent increase over four years; the companies have offered about 20 percent.
The U.A.W. also wants more workers to qualify for pensions, company-paid retiree health care, shorter working hours and job security for workers if the manufacturers close plants in the future. It also wanted to end a wage system in which new hires start at about $17 an hour and must stay on the job eight years to climb up to the top wage of $32 an hour.
Peter Berg, a professor of employment relations at Michigan State University, said the U.A.W.’s strategy of limiting strikes to certain locations eased the cost of supporting workers from its strike fund but hurt the manufacturers because those plants make some of their most profitable vehicles.
“The question is, can the union maintain solidarity and keep everyone together if this continues for several more weeks?” he said. “I do think the union is in a strong position. This is a moment where there’s been a shift in power to workers.”
Earlier in the week, workers demonstrating at Stellantis’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., said they were energized and ready to join the walkout, if called to do so.
“President Fain has got fight,” said Marnice Alford, who works in the paint shop at a Stellantis plant in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. “I like that.”
Santul Nerkar and J. Edward Moreno contributed reporting.