May 25, 2023 - News

Potential for strike looms over upcoming UAW contract talks

Illustration of a raised fist icon that starts to crackle with electricity.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

With contentious contract negotiations fast approaching, the United Auto Workers are facing unprecedented change — both inside their union and on the factory floor.

Why it matters: Newly elected UAW President Shawn Fain — who has turned heads with his combative tone — hasn't ruled out a strike when contracts with the Big Three automakers expire Sept. 14.

  • About a quarter of the union's 380,000 active members are in Metro Detroit.
  • A strike would immediately hurt the local economy and could have long-term ramifications for a global auto industry transitioning to electric vehicles.
  • Bargaining is expected to start in July.

Catch up fast: Fain was narrowly elected president in March — the first victory in decades for a UAW candidate outside the reigning administration caucus.

  • He ran on a reform platform against corporate greed, promising to end the union's cozy relationship with manufacturers.
  • "We're here to come together to ready ourselves for the war against our one and only true enemy: multibillion-dollar corporations and employers that refuse to give our members their fair share," Fain said in a speech to members after his election.

The big picture: Against the backdrop of the government-backed EV transition, the contract talks come amid surging corporate profits, plant closures and new UAW leadership that has pledged to repair the damage from a recent corruption scandal.

  • The 2024 presidential election adds another dynamic. The union, which has traditionally backed Democrats, is withholding an endorsement of President Joe Biden's re-election while it gauges his administration's support for workers while incentivizing EVs.

What they're saying: "They're playing a high-stakes game of Russian roulette here," U of M business professor Erik Gordon tells Axios about the UAW. "They could beat a short-term victory out of the Big Three, but five or 10 years from now regret it."

  • "There's a strong possibility of a strike and there's a possibility the strike could be a long one."

Between the lines: A production stop could throttle vehicle inventories, which have only recently begun to recover from supply chain breakdowns.

What we're watching: Fain's tough talk ratchets up the pressure to deliver higher wages to union members without imperiling their jobs in the long run.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Detroit.

More Detroit stories