Stellantis — one of the big three automakers locked in negotiations with the United Auto Workers — is mobilizing its internal diversity groups to provide volunteer labor at parts distribution facilities affected by the UAW strike, according to internal emails obtained by The Intercept. The communications marked with Stellantis’s Diversity and Inclusion logo seek members of the company’s Business Resource Groups, or BRGs, to help keep parts flowing to the automakers’ customers.
Company officials put out a request last week for volunteers to staff its parts distribution centers across the country, particularly in Michigan. The Working Parents Network, a BRG, forwarded that call-out to its members, noting, “Each BRG will pick a specific day of the week/weekend to volunteer as a team.” The email continued: “Help continue to be the RESOURCE the BUSINESS can count on!” In another email, the parents group wrote that “Stellantis needs your help in running the Parts Distribution Centers (PDC) to ensure a steady supply of parts to our customers while negotiations continue. Working Parents Network has identified Friday, October 13 as WPN’s BRG Day at the PDCs!”
The initial request — sent by Stellantis’s North America Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart, and Mike Koval, head of Mopar North America, Stellantis’s parts subsidiary — came three weeks into the 150,000-member union’s strike against Stellantis, General Motors, and Ford. UAW President Shawn Fain has praised Ford for making good-faith progress and announced last week that General Motors had agreed to include battery facilities in the national UAW master agreement — heading off contentious battles over unionizing new electric vehicle facilities. Stellantis’s call for volunteer labor to break up the strike, meanwhile, comes as the company remains intransigent in the face of negotiations.
“Companies are usually not transparent about who is being used when they bring in replacement labor during a strike,” John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, told The Intercept. Logan also said companies often resort to using internal, non-union labor to avoid the escalation that hiring private strikebreakers from outside the firm could cause. At the same time, he added, using small factions within the company to man distribution centers could bring about long-term damage to Stellantis.
“If they do things in the course of the strike that does irreparable harm to their relationship with workers and the union, that will have a lasting impact on the company,” Logan said. “Having a productive relationship reduces turnover and increases productivity, but if they’re angering union workers with the replacement labor they bring in, that’s where serious disputes can happen.”
Stellantis did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
Since September 22, UAW members have been striking at over a dozen Stellantis parts distribution facilities across the country, from Dallas to New York and down to Orlando. The emails obtained by The Intercept focus on facilities in Michigan, the powerhouse of the U.S. auto industry.
The National Labor Relations Act explicitly outlawed company unions, which deflated national labor unions’ power and provided workers with only minimal benefits like pool tables and break rooms. Decades later, companies are forming internal, identity-based organizations that similarly offer marginal benefits. As The Intercept previously reported, some of the biggest union avoidance firms, including Littler Mendelson and Jackson Lewis, have pitched BRGs as a way to Band-Aid over worker concerns while simultaneously heading off unionization attempts. Another major firm, IRI Strategies, has noted that BRGs are a good way to “union-proof” your business by accommodating some of the complaints that would otherwise be brought to a union representative.
On its website, Stellantis touts BRGs as “One of the ways we create, promote and maintain inclusion and diversity. … These groups provide networking opportunities, activities and meetings for our employees who share common interests and work to support greater cultural appreciation among our team.”
The company’s BRGs, which can be joined by union and non-union members, include Asians Connected Together (ACT), DIVERSE•Abilities Network, First Nations, Latins in Connection, Middle Eastern Employees Together (MEET), Prism LGBTQ+ Alliance, Stellantis African American Network Diaspora (STAAND), Veterans Group, Women in Manufacturing, Women’s Alliance, Working Parents Network, and Society of Women Engineers.
Even as it offers its workers the option to join BRGs, Stellantis has been investigated for its failure to adequately provide required resources for some of the represented workers. In February, the Department of Labor found that Stellantis had failed to provide legally mandated lactation facilities for new mothers — the same demographic represented by the Working Parents Network, whose members are being called on to scab for the company.
According to the Labor Department’s investigative summary, its wage and hour division had received a complaint about conditions at a plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The investigators were told “that a plant employee was expressing breast milk on the factory floor after being denied access to the assembly plant’s lactation rooms” and “also learned of Stellantis’ improper policy of requiring nursing mothers to submit a doctor’s note and the baby’s birth certificate to access lactation rooms.”
Following the investigation, the plant promised to “create additional lactation rooms and correct its break policy to avoid future violations.”
Stellantis’s efforts to use groups of marginalized employees as scab labor is reminiscent of the steel strikes of the early 20th century, when manufacturers brought in tens of thousands of black and Mexican workers to break strikes. “When the great migration began employers very explicitly began to play groups off of each other and that was a three-way split between African Americans, European immigrants who were one notch above them in the hierarchy, and then native-born skilled workers,” Gabriel Winant, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, told The Intercept.
“Class division within the workplace between management and labor is often blurred with racial and ethnic divisions,” Winant said, “and American managers have always exploited that.”