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Alex Borg

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Nov 22, 2023

6 minute read

Fleet Management Blog

What Fleet Managers Should Take from Labor Strikes

For six weeks starting in mid-September, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union went on strike against Detroit's Big Three automakers: Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. General wage increases, cost-of-living adjustments and greater worker protections were at the top of the UAW's list of demands.

What Fleet Managers Should Take from Labor Strikes

At its peak, close to 50,000 automobile workers participated in the UAW strike, leaving manufacturing and distribution facilities across the nation at a standstill. And while the Big Three and UAW were ultimately able to reach a deal, reaching that agreement came at a significant cost to both sides of the labor dispute. According to Anderson Economic Group, an economic and public policy consulting firm, the strike ultimately ended up costing the Big Three more than $4 billion in losses. While at the picket line, it's estimated that striking workers missed out on $488 million in wages.

Because the strike concluded relatively quickly, fears regarding prolonged vehicle shortages (akin to what occurred during the pandemic) fortunately never became a reality. Vehicle availability in the US only dipped for a brief moment, leaving most fleets completely unaffected.

Lessons learned from the workers' strikes

That being said, fleet managers shouldn't immediately dismiss the UAW's battle against the Big Three as yesterday's news now that it's over. There are lessons to be learned from the UAW strike applicable to organizations of all sizes, industries and unionization statuses.

Here are our primary takeaways from the UAW strike.

1. Workers demand wages that reflect living expenses

Above all other factors, dissatisfaction with wages was the leading cause of the UAW strike. Due to skyrocketing inflation, the cost of everything from gas to groceries has dramatically increased in recent years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for auto workers had fallen by more than 20% over the past two decades (with inflation factored in). And as a result of spending more on life’s essentials, UAW members were finding it tougher to save any of their earnings.

Of course, frustration over stagnant wages in the face of climbing cost of living expenses isn’t limited to UAW members. Earlier this year, unions representing employees at UPS and American Airlines were able to negotiate meaningful wage bumps for their members. And in a survey conducted by Bankrate.com in 2022, 55% of respondents indicated that their incomes were not keeping pace with rising expenses.

As you might expect, workers in the fleet industry are also feeling the pinch of inflation. For an industry that has been struggling to attract and retain fleet drivers and technicians for decades, elevated living costs amplify an already difficult challenge. To make ends meet, fleet personnel who feel they’re being under-compensated might be tempted to seek employment with one of their employer’s competitors or to leave the industry entirely.

Pro-tip

To position themselves as appealing places to work, fleet organizations should regularly evaluate how their wage offerings compare to their competitors and living expenses in their area.

While raising wages is never as simple as it might seem to those on the outside, doing so can be immensely beneficial to an organization’s long-term success. Retaining top talent prevents loss of institutional knowledge, reduces inefficiencies endemic to training new personnel and can keep worker morale in good spirits. While it’s difficult to put a price point to any of those advantages, fleets should seriously consider their value.

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2. Workers value equal treatment across the board

Since 2007, UAW members employed by the Big Three have been compensated via a two-tier system. Under the system, new hires were paid less than their more experienced coworkers to perform the same job. This extended to less generous health care and retirement benefits for greenhorns as well. And while this system was eventually amended in 2019 to allow new hires to eventually reach the same levels of compensation as their senior colleagues after eight years, the entire arrangement was widely unpopular among autoworkers.

During the auto workers strike, UAW members sought to largely abolish this two-tier system, viewing it as unfair and destructive to worker morale. While not uncommon with union jobs, tiered pay structures are broadly unpopular. For example, the Teamsters union was successful in eliminating a number of tiers at UPS earlier this year. In a nutshell, people care about the treatment of their co-workers, even when they are in an advantageous position under a tiered pay structure.

Ultimately, employers need to strike a balance between rewarding their personnel who stick around for the long haul and paying for the same work equally. Achieving this balance can be difficult, and it might be impossible for all parties to receive what they would want ideally, but doing so eliminates having an “underclass” of employees (and the resentments and dissatisfactions that come with that). Because workers are often transparent about their wages to their co-workers, it might be in fleet organizations best interest to be transparent as well.

Pro-tip

Clearly define your pay structure and share it with all employees to promote transparency and encourage professional growth.

Having a clearly defined pay methodology known to all employees can alleviate some of the tensions around pay and facilitate more productive conversations regarding compensation between personnel and management. Once published, employers should periodically gather feedback from employees to gauge their feelings toward the pay structure and make adjustments as necessary.

And beyond pay, fleet organizations should strive to be fair and transparent on operational matters like driver schedules as well. Driver burnout remains one of the leading contributors to the decades-long driver shortage and anything fleets can do to curb it benefits employers and employees alike. By clearly communicating how assignments are made, drivers are less likely to feel that they’re being overburdened for personal or petty reasons.

3. Workers want assurances regarding future possibilities

A key topic at issue during the UAW strike revolved around the automobile industry’s looming transition to electric vehicles (EVs). As states become increasingly stringent on vehicle emissions, EVs completely supplanting internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered vehicles is increasingly being viewed as an inevitability. Thinking ahead, the UAW demanded a guarantee from the Big Three that they would compensate their employees in the event of any plant closure.

Historically, major steps forward in technology have created new jobs for some and eliminated jobs for others. Workers are aware of this precedent and when they consider the disruptive potential of emerging technologies in their industries, they often wonder how secure their jobs are. And while workers don’t expect their employers to accurately predict the future, they do expect them to offer some assurances if certain events play out.

Pro-tip

Include your employees in conversations when planning for the future. Share your vision and allow them to provide feedback.

To assuage their personnel’s concerns, fleets should strive to be as transparent about their future plans and the health of their organization as possible. While it’s often difficult for organizations to provide long-term commitments in the face of turbulent economic and industry-specific forces, even short-term assurances are appreciated by workers. Ultimately, most workers value the stability their jobs provide them, so anything employers can do to honestly affirm that stability is worth communicating.


By imagining themselves in their employees’ shoes and really considering their concerns and perspectives, fleet organizations can implement policies where all parties benefit. Even if certain details regarding the UAW strike might be specific to unions, there are multiple takeaways from it that are applicable to organizations of all stripes.

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About the Author


Alex Borg

Alex Borg

Content Marketing Specialist

Alex Borg is a Content Marketing Specialist at Fleetio. Beyond writing, his interests include going to concerts, playing guitar, and hanging out at the beach.

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