Bloomberg Law: Marick Masters on UAW contract extensions

The United Automobile Workers union wasted no time in going to the picket lines. Its contract with General Motors Co. expired Sept. 14, and within 48 hours—at 11:59 pm Sept. 15—the union’s more than 49,000 GM workers were on strike. The decision by UAW leaders to call a strike so soon after a contract expires is a departure from decades of negotiating precedent between the UAW and Detroit’s three big auto manufacturers—GM, Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. The UAW frequently has relied on contract extensions in previous negotiations, but was quick to call a strike this time around, one expert said. “I think that they were just very impatient in this round of negotiations,” said Marick Masters, a management professor and former director of Wayne State University’s labor studies program. But there’s a flurry of complicating factors in ongoing negotiations. Union leadership is under increased scrutiny as federal prosecutors continue to unravel a sprawling culture of corruption among former UAW leaders and negotiators. There also was a strong sense inside and outside the union that a strike was likely, Masters said. Such an outlook could have contributed to the speed with which the strike was called, according to the professor. “It’s hard to say how far apart they are,” Masters said of the UAW and GM. “But I get the feeling that they are pretty far apart. So you hope that they come to their senses pretty soon. But it certainly has the makings to go on for a very long time with the caveat that when reality sets in, they’re probably going to want to sit down and see what they can do to bring things back together.” GM took the unusual step of making public its offer to the UAW on Sept. 15. It called for more than $7 billion in investments and the creation of 5,400 jobs. Union members would take home a one-time ratification bonus of $8,000 and receive wage increases or lump-sum payments every year of the proposed four-year deal. The company’s transparency was likely meant to project that it’s negotiating in good faith, Masters said.

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