The United Auto Workers (UAW) union said it would begin negotiations with the Detroit Big Three automakers from this Thursday, according to Reuters.

The current four year labour deal is set to expire in mid September.

The talks will start with Stellantis on Thursday, followed by Ford on Friday and General Motors on Tuesday 18 July.

These agreements will cover 150,000 US workers.

Executives from the Big Three have said labour costs must be reduced if US factories are to be restructured to build EVs to match Tesla and other non-union manufacturers.

However, analysts have said this shift may lead to significant losses for the automakers in the coming years, as they replace high volume combustion vehicles with low volume EVs that rely on expensive batteries, the news agency said.

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“The UAW fully supports the transition to a more climate friendly auto industry, and we are convinced that it can be done without making workers pay the price,” the UAW said.

President Shawn Fain has expressed the union’s desire to eliminate the two-tier wage system. The UAW also wants to reinstate cost of living wage enhancements and tackle reduced retiree benefits from the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Fain was sworn in as the UAW president on March 26, 2023 and is the first president to be elected directly by the union’s active and retired members. The Detroit Bureau reported that Harley Shaiken, a labour expert from the University of California, said the election was “truly historic”.

Fain has pledged a new approach to relationships with automakers, pushing for more getting rather than giving.

The UAW will not hold a formal media event with company executives to mark the start of negotiations. The talks will therefore be missing the traditional ceremonial handshake between the UAW and the Big Three’s CEOs.

“The members come first,” Fain said in a statement. “I’ll shake hands with the CEOs when they come to the table with a deal that reflects the needs of the workers who make this industry run. When the 150,000 autoworkers at Ford, GM, and Stellantis receive the respect they are due for their sacrifice in generating the historic profits of the past decade, then we can proceed with a handshake.”

According to the Detroit Bureau, “the move to skip the handshake is completely in line with Fain’s militant approach”.

With the abandoning of the ceremonial handshake, UAW leaders will instead meet with auto workers at three plants in Detroit on Wednesday 12 July.

According to Politico, US President Joe Biden has asked veteran Democratic economist, Gene Sperling to monitor the talks.

However, the Detroit Bureau has called this a “move designed to curry favour with UAW leaders”.

Earlier this year, the UAW refrained from endorsing President Joe Biden’s re-election bid due to concerns about his EV policies.