Thousands of Layoffs at the Big Three Auto Companies – It’s the “Normal Course of Business”

The Big Three Auto companies, Ford, GM, and Stellantis (which owns Jeep, Ram, and Chrysler), have announced plans to lay off nearly 10,000 workers throughout the winter and spring. The companies say many of the layoffs will be temporary, just part of the restructuring of the industry as it scales up the production of electrically powered vehicles (EVs). Nevertheless, it is already certain that more than two thousand workers are being permanently laid off or “terminated” by Stellantis. The Stellantis workers being terminated are all temps, or what Stellantis called “Supplemental Employees” (SEs).

Stellantis employed about 5,200 SEs at the beginning of 2023. These workers were paid as little as $17/hour, had no benefits, could be forced to work seven days a week, and had often worked as temps for years. The UAW’s new contract promised that by October 2024, Stellantis will convert 3,200 SEs to full-time employees, with a big boost in pay, job security, and benefits. However, the new contract said nothing about the status of the remaining 2,000 plus SEs. Did the UAW not see that these SEs had a target on their backs? Or is it more likely the top UAW leaders knew Stellantis’s plans, yet did nothing and kept their mouths shut?

When word began to spread about the mass terminations of SEs, the UAW HQ complained, “Stellantis can afford to do the right thing here and provide a pathway to full time good auto jobs but is again choosing to line executive and shareholder pockets. These workers have generated Stellantis’s record profits, and there is absolutely no need to layoff a single one of them.”

But this statement from the union shows a naïve belief that the bosses wish to share their profits with their workers, or that the company should be satisfied with their “record profits.” Stellantis explained more accurately that the terminations were “part of our normal course of business.” Stellantis is correct, it is indeed “normal” for corporations to cut jobs even while making record profits. Getting more work out of fewer workers is precisely how the bosses can continue making “record profits” well into the future! Auto workers understand this, but the UAW doesn’t seem to get it, or doesn’t want to.

The bosses think that re-organizing production to make EVs is an opportunity to design the new production processes in ways that get more output from fewer workers. In the next few years, autoworkers will have to fight hard to keep the transition to EVs from making their jobs even harder than they already are. The way the UAW let Stellantis get away with firing 2,000 plus workers is a warning that autoworkers will have to shake up the UAW or find a better way to organize their fight.