91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Stateside Podcast: What a UAW strike would mean

File - United Auto Workers members walk in the Labor Day parade in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2023. The union is threatening to strike any automaker that hasn't reached an agreement by the time contracts expire on Sept. 14.
Paul Sancya
File - United Auto Workers members walk in the Labor Day parade in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2023. The union is threatening to strike any automaker that hasn't reached an agreement by the time contracts expire on Sept. 14.

Tonight could be the first time the UAW strikes against all three automakers simultaneously. With tonight’s United Auto Workers strike decision and the Detroit Auto Show’s black-tie event tomorrow night, it’s a momentous week for the auto industry.

Stateside spoke with Phoebe Wall Howard, an automotive reporter for the Detroit Free Press, about what’s at stake for both the union and the automakers.

What does a strike mean for the automakers?

Wall Howard cited massive profit losses and loss of goodwill with the public as major impacts of a UAW strike, from the automakers’ perspective.

“What's interesting here is you're talking about loss of making product, as well as money that would otherwise be invested in the transition to electric vehicles,” Wall Howard said.

How are the automakers reacting to this potential strike?

She noted that the “Detroit Three” – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, which includes Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, and Jeep – as well as their suppliers, are “uncomfortable.”

“This is a very complicated, detailed situation,” Wall Howard said. “Everyone is very, very concerned because it's coming down to the wire. And that's not something these automakers want.”

What does a strike mean for the union and its members?

The most obvious answer is that union members will not be able to do their jobs, and therefore will not get paid, if they strike. A strike would also directly impact the profit sharing checks typically given to UAW members.

“A number of members said to me they'd never seen such discipline and training in the preparation for the strike,” Wall Howard said.

What does a strike mean beyond the Detroit 3 and the UAW?

“The whole country is watching, and actually other countries. We've had feedback from all around the world because this is a manufacturing first,” Wall Howard said.

This strike has also found support outside of the UAW. For example, truck drivers within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, another labor union with memberships across industries, have declared their stance of solidarity with the UAW. Organization presidents in Louisville, Kentucky and Detroit have stated they will not be delivering vehicles if there is a strike.

“The reason it's resonated with so many union members outside the UAW is that wages have been stagnant all over the United States for the past two decades,” Wall Howard said. “So this unity effort is resonating outside the manufacturing sector as well.”

What was significant about UAW president Shawn Fain’s remarks last night?

Shawn Fain live-streamed on Facebook On Wednesday night to share the union’s position. He talked about his Christian faith, sharing Bible verses and urging union members to have faith in each other.

“It was a very raw presentation,” Wall Howard said. “He was consistently angry with the automakers, saying they still do not understand what's needed, and there is room to move.”

Fain was critical of the media as well; he remarked that cost margins are not driven by labor and pointed to the multitude of factors that drive up costs.

Why is the timing significant?

Friday night is the Charity Preview, the black tie event that kicks off the annual North American International Detroit Auto Show.

“Because all proceeds go to children's charities in southeast Detroit, southeast Michigan, it takes on a different color,” Wall Howard said.

If people don’t attend, the charities lose out on donations. The charities include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, the Michigan Hospital for Children, along with other organizations.

The UAW is planning to hold a rally at 4 p.m. at the Ford-UAW building on the same night, right next door to the North American International Detroit Auto Show at Huntington Place.

“They've committed to not disrupting the gala, but there will be a very strong presence,” Wall Howard said.

When will the public know whether or not the union is striking?

Shawn Fain will announce the union’s next step at 10 p.m. this evening. He will detail the target strike factories and sites based on the counter offers.

“Everybody is on standby,” Wall Howard said.

[Get Stateside on your phone: subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify today.]

Stay Connected
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
Olivia Mouradian recently graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2023.