Auto Workers hold lots of cards even if U.S. heads for recession

A worker labors on the assembly line June 24, 2019, at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant where the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and Police Interceptor sport utility vehicles are built. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

General Motors skirted a strike this week that could have affected production of some of its most profitable vehicles. Details of the agreement with about 700 subsystem workers, who deliver parts to the assembly line, aren’t yet public and still have to be ratified. But the close call and tough talks offer a glimpse of what could be coming next year, when GM, Ford and Stellantis negotiate new four-year contracts for their roughly 150,000 US employees represented by the United Auto Workers.

While companies from Amazon to Apple have been raising wages in a tight labor market to attract workers and fend off unionization, the three Detroit-area automakers have been somewhat insulated from wage inflation, at least at the low end of the pay scale. This is a result of their having locked in labor costs with their last contracts in 2019.

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