(NEW YORK) — Tens of thousands of striking employees at the Big 3 automakers are receiving $500 a week in substitute pay from the United Auto Workers — roughly half of their previous income.
Some workers will need to draw on savings or support from family members within weeks while cutting back on expenses like dental work and streaming services, according to interviews with two UAW members employed by Ford.
The financial pain endured by striking autoworkers comes alongside business losses incurred by diminished production at the Big 3 — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which owns Jeep and Chrysler.
A 10-day strike among the 143,000 autoworkers represented by the UAW was expected to cost the companies a total of nearly $1 billion and to deny workers about $860 million in lost wages, according to a report released last month by the Anderson Economic Group.
As of Friday, the work stoppage had stretched for more than two weeks, though it had so far touched only a fraction of the workers and company facilities.
“The strike is the nuclear option,” Art Wheaton, a labor professor at the Worker Institute at Cornell University, told ABC News. “This is mutually assured destruction.”
“The workers want to withstand the strike one day longer than the companies so that they’ll make a deal,” Wheaton added.
Autoworkers have walked off the job at one assembly plant associated with each of the Big 3, as well as 38 parts distribution locations run by GM and Stellantis.
In all, roughly 18,300 autoworkers have walked out on strike, encompassing a fraction of the nearly 150,000 workers represented by the UAW in the contract dispute. UAW President Shawn Fain has said the strike will expand to include more workers if negotiations stall at the bargaining table.
In a statement on Thursday, a Ford spokesperson said the company remains engaged in talks with the UAW.
“Negotiations continue. Our focus remains on working diligently with the UAW to reach a deal that rewards our workforce and enables Ford to invest in a vibrant and growing future,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for General Motors criticized the union’s decision to expand the strike, saying the company has put forward a series of “historic” contract proposals.
“The strike escalation last week by the UAW’s top leadership was unnecessary,” the spokesperson said. “We have said repeatedly that nobody wins in a strike and that effects go well beyond our employees on the plant floor and negatively impact our customers, suppliers and the communities where we do business.”
Stellantis declined to respond to ABC News’ request for comment. On Thursday, a spokesperson for Stellantis said in a statement: “We continue to approach these negotiations responsibly and bargain in good faith.”
The UAW did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Mack Hall, a striking Ford employee at an assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, said he prepared financially in recent months by stashing away some of each paycheck and avoiding major expenses such as a vacation or new vehicle.
“I’m willing to make that sacrifice,” Hall said, saying that he stands to bring in roughly half of his previous weekly income.
The experience reminds him of the pay cut that he and other autoworkers took as carmakers struggled during the Great Recession. “We’ve been sacrificing since 2012,” he said.
In addition to the weekly $500 payment, the union’s strike fund will provide reimbursement for health care costs. Since vision and dental costs will not be covered, Hall went in for a teeth cleaning and crown before the work stoppage began, he said.
“That’s the last thing I did,” he said, adding that his savings will last him four months before he goes into debt.
The targeted strike strategy allows the UAW to “create chaos” for the automakers, since they don’t know where the strike will take hold next, Wheaton said. But the move also helps the union preserve its strike fund, he noted.
The union held $825 million in its strike fund before workers joined the picket line, allowing it to carry out a work stoppage among all of the workers that it represents at the Big 3 automakers for about 12 weeks, according to analysts at Evercore ISI. By narrowing the strike, the union can draw down the fund over a longer period of time.
The union has demanded a 40% pay increase combined over the four-year duration of a new contract, as well as a 32-hour workweek at 40-hour pay, among other terms.
The Big 3 automakers have offered a 20% raise and have appeared to reject the stipulation on the length of the workweek.
Marisa Beck, a Ford employee whose plant remains in operation, said she worries about the financial blow if the union were to call her out on strike. A single parent of a 10-year old child, Beck said the union stipend would cut her pay by nearly half.
“It’s pretty stressful, particularly being the only income in the house, to think that you’re going to be on strike and make way less,” Beck said.
To prepare, Beck has cut expenses like some video streaming subscriptions and the regular purchase of a 5-gallon water cooler. “My daughter wanted the water cooler back,” Beck said. “There’s nothing wrong with tap water.”
Still, Beck lacks enough savings to withstand the potential cut in pay, saying she would immediately need to rely on support from family members. Even so, Beck wouldn’t hesitate if the union called her out on strike, she added.
“We’ve got buttons that say, ‘I don’t want to strike but I will,"” Beck said. “You really couldn’t sum it up any better.”
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