UAW Strike Almost Guaranteed to Happen

As news of the UAW leadership’s corruption continues to make headlines, it appears a strike is imminent. Michigan’s MLive reports that union members working for General Motors plan to walk out once their current agreement expires at midnight, Sept. 14. At least for now, the UAW strike will not affect Ford or Fiat Chrysler.

Assuming workers do walk out without a new agreement in place, it would mean 14,465 hourly employees in 13 factories would stop working until the union reaches a new agreement with GM.

MLive reports that union president Ryan Buchalaski told members, “If a strike is called, you will be notified on your job by your committeeman/alternate or other Local 598 appointed members. Each member will stop their work in an orderly manner. Gather your personal belongings and quietly exit the plant. Do not leave your job unless instructed.”

Tense negotiations

GM has led the negotiations this year, and it was widely expected to be the most impassioned bargaining of the last ten years. When you consider the slowing of auto sales, the current uneasy trade environment, and an expanding federal probe into union corruption, it’s easy to see why.

Further complicating matters, a federal probe led to the recent search of UAW President Gary Jones’ residence by federal agents. No charges against Jones have been filed as part of the probe. Eight company and union officials with ties to Fiat Chrysler have already been convicted of crimes in the ongoing probe. Charges were filed against Michael Grimes last month. The former UAW official was brought up on charges for allegedly accepting kickbacks from UAW vendors of $2 million. Grimes was assigned to the union’s GM department.

What’s a strike authorization vote?

Part of the union’s constitution, UAW strike authorization votes are considered a necessary first step in effective negotiation. The results of the vote are typically close to unanimous in favor of the authorization. But the authorization doesn’t mean that there will definitely be a strike. 

In a press release announcing the results of the vote, Jones explained that no one in a negotiation wants a strike. He stressed that it’s an important aspect of the bargaining process. 

Whether they are national or targeted, automaker strikes can be bad for business. A two-day strike in 2007 against GM brought production to a stand-still at over 80 U.S. sites. According to Buckingham Research Group, the strike cost the automaker over $300 million each day. 

Jones said that ultimately the company is in control of its own destiny in the negotiations. He went on to explain that the UAW stood up for workers in a dark time and it’s time for the UAW to stand up for all workers now. 

What’s on the line

The benefits and wages of 158,000 auto workers are on the table in this year’s negotiations. It will also outline the investment plans of the companies in the coming years. While current contracts set to expire on September 14th, it’s not unusual for such deadlines to defer weeks or months during the process.

The toughest negotiation will be with GM with the automaker’s plan to possibly close four U.S. facilities. They include large assembly sites in Ohio and Michigan. Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, announced those proposed plans last year which would affect approximately 14,000 jobs. The largest automaker in the U.S. is preparing for both a shift to autonomous and electric vehicles along with rumors of a possible recession.

The bargaining with the automakers this year took place in an an unprecedented situation involving federal raids on the homes of leaders in the UAW. The searches appear to confirm that the Department of Justice is expanding the multi-year probe to include current UAW leaders. The union maintains that there is no widespread problem and seek to distance themselves from the “misdeeds of a few bad apples.”