Like other sectors, workers in the auto industry are strengthened in their bargaining position because the economy is strong, and auto companies are making solid profits. They also have a new leader in Shawn Fain who ran for office on the grounds that he is going to be tougher than the previous leaders of the United Auto Workers (UAW).
Harry Katz is a professor of collective bargaining in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He says the UAW’s position is different from other recent contract negotiations such as the UPS-Teamsters deal.
“Shawn Fain did some nontraditional things like refusing to shake hands, he also tore up the initial contract offered by Chrysler and threw it in the waste basket. But he wasn’t elected with an overwhelming mandate. He only won by a few hundred votes in an initial election where only 12% of eligible voters voted.
“The UAW now represents slightly less than half of workers who assemble vehicles in the United States. Imports have grown, as well as (foreign-owned) ‘transplants,’ that aren’t covered by UAW contracts. And that’s weakened the bargaining leverage of the UAW.
“In addition, the UAW is facing a shift toward battery-electric powered cars, and all the forecasts show that that will require less direct labor than is currently required to assemble a vehicle. That’s a real concern to Fain and the UAW.”
Katz illustrates what a potential compromise agreement between the Detroit Three and the UAW might look like in this ILR YouTube video.