I’m not in the least surprised that the United Autoworkers Union reached a new agreement with Fiat Chrysler late last night. Nobody, but nobody wanted a strike.

I did think it possible that the union might have workers put down tools and walk off the job for a few hours in an effort to remind the rank-and-file of their heritage.

But if there had been a serious strike, the only winner would have been Toyota.

Well, as you may know by now, the United Auto Workers union did an absolutely superb job negotiating a new contact with FCA, Fiat Chrysler.

Everybody in the industry was impressed by the result, with one exception, the workers themselves, who voted the contract down by more than a two to one margin.

Fiat-Chrysler employees reject contract

Sep 30, 2015
Fiat Chryler CEO Sergio Marchionne, left, and UAW President Dennis Williams.

United Auto Workers union members have rejected a proposed contract with Fiat Chrysler in a rebuke of union leaders who had praised the deal.

Official totals weren't released, but workers at many large factories voted against the pact by large margins, making victory impossible.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and UAW President Dennis Williams

After several days of marathon bargaining, UAW and Fiat-Chrysler leaders announced a tentative new contract for workers Tuesday night.

They weren’t willing to make many details public, however.

UAW President Dennis Williams said that’s because union members deserve to see the new deal first.

Well, if you woke up in Detroit early this morning you might have thought you were in one of those old Back to the Future movies. The lead story was the auto talks; negotiators for the company and the union had been up all night, and workers on the line were waiting to see if they would get a deal, keep talking, or send everyone out on strike.

We haven’t seen anything like an authentic, old-fashioned, drawn-out labor stoppage in the industry since about the time giant tail fins were popular. Nobody really wanted a strike, but the fact one was even being contemplated was in a way, heartening.

Imagine going back half a century, and asking people which of these two things would be more likely fifty years in the future: A) The United States would have established a permanent colony on the moon; or, B) The United Auto Workers union would have chosen a foreign-owned automaker as its target company in contract negotiations.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Thousands of union members marched into downtown Detroit Monday as part of the city’s annual Labor Day parade.

Mirroring the downward trend in union membership nationally, parade attendance has lagged in recent years.

But the event still draws a big crowd, and there was an effort to bump up attendance this year, particularly from UAW locals.

The UAW is in the midst of bargaining new contracts with Detroit automakers.

Ford Motor Company

It's crunch time for negotiators for the United Auto Workers, and Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

Union contracts with the car companies expire next week, on September 14.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

Just a week and a half from now, the United Automobile Workers contracts with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will expire.

In a recent column for The Detroit News, Daniel Howes points out some some things that set these talks apart from years past.

United Auto Worker contingent at a protest in New York.
Thomas Good / wikimedia commons -

The current negotiations over the contracts are continuing pretty much out of the spotlight. There’s a delicate balance that both sides are trying to pull off.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes shared the "wants" and "needs" of both sides in these contract talks with us.

He penned a column today in the News about the talks.

Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers union’s greatest leader, has been dead for forty-five years now, killed in a plane crash outside Pellston, a few years before oil shocks and a flood of foreign imports began to drastically change the industry.

Several years ago, soon after the union agreed to accept a two-tier wage system in which new hires would be paid less, I asked Doug Fraser, perhaps the last of his successors to know Reuther well, what Walter would have thought about that? I expected he’d say Reuther would be rolling in his grave.

But instead, Fraser said it was impossible to know. We are living in a different world from the one Reuther helped build. And Walter Reuther was adept at adjusting to new realities. When the union agreed to accept a two-tier system eight years ago, they hoped it would create more jobs.

UAW President Dennis Williams chats with GM CEO Mary Barra at the kickoff of the 2015 contract negotiations
Jeffrey Sauger / General Motors

The United Automobile Workers and Fiat-Chrysler open contract talks today. General Motors talks started Monday, and Ford begins late next week.

According to Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes, these talks are new territory for the Detroit Three and the UAW.

Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.
Dwight Burdette / wikimedia commons

Ford is moving production of the Focus and C-Max out of the Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne by 2018. 

The automaker isn't saying where the Focus and C-Max will go, but it's likely to be Mexico. 

The industry trend is to build less profitable small cars there because of Mexico's lower labor costs. 

In a statement, Ford says "We actively are pursuing future vehicle alternatives to produce at Michigan Assembly and will discuss this issue with UAW leadership as part of the upcoming negotiations." 


Bargainers for the UAW and the Detroit automakers will get down to brass tacks the week of July 13.

The tug of war will be between workers who expect to get back some of what they gave up during the downturn of 2008-09, and auto executives who can't fall back into the practices that got them in such trouble. 

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes believes it's all going to come down to who's looking ahead through the windshield or at the past in the rear-view mirror.

"As you go into negotiations, you can't help but think that the UAW and their membership are looking at the fact that over the past four years of the current contract, GM, Ford, and what is now FCA or Chrysler, have made $67.7 billion of profits in North America." 

UAW leader wants one health plan for all employees

Jun 18, 2015
Rebecca Kruth

The president of the UAW Thursday said the union is considering ways to cut health care costs for members.

Dennis Williams told reporters in Detroit the union is considering a health care pool that would put its nearly 140,000 active workers under a single plan.

“As we share in the bad times, we must equally share in the good times!”

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams fired up the rank and file at the UAW convention last week in Detroit. The meeting comes as the Union is preparing for a round of bargaining that will begin later this year with the domestic auto companies.

GM had an event-filled year. The company announced more shifts at assembly plants, like at this one - the Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri. It also dealt with the fallout from the ignition switch recall.

UAW members gathered in Detroit this week to let local delegates air their views about what the union should demand in contract talks with U.S. automakers later this year.

The discussion has centered on the two-tier pay system that's been in place for the last eight years.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

No union member likes the fact that pay for entry-level workers at GM, Ford, and Chrysler is capped at about $19 an hour.

Not the workers themselves, known as "tier two."

Not the higher-paid workers, known as "tier one," like Jeep assembly line worker Samantha Price, who says the system creates inter-personal conflict at her Toledo plant "every day.  Every single day."

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The United Auto Workers is taking a big step this week to prepare for upcoming contract talks with automakers. Hundreds of delegates from more than 800 locals are meeting with top union leaders at Cobo Center for the UAW Special Convention on Collective Bargaining.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

People lined up in single digit cold outside a church on Flint’s south side to get some free water this morning.  A few blocks away, others lined up outside a union hall. 

Combined, Catholic Charities and the UAW were giving away several thousand gallons of water.

Mary Stevenson with Catholic Charities was helping coordinate today’s water giveaway.

Unions don’t represent as many workers as they used to, and we are increasingly ignorant of labor history, though it includes some of the most fascinating episodes in Michigan’s glorious past.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - The United Auto Workers union is forming a local aimed at representing the Mercedes plant in Alabama in a move mirroring its efforts at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee.

UAW President Dennis Williams was joined by top labor officials at Mercedes parent Daimler AG and the German union IG Metall on Friday to announce the new effort to organize the plant, which is the company's only factory worldwide without labor representation.

Something happened in the auto industry recently that was mostly overlooked by the mainstream media – but which may have huge implications for the industry and the United Auto Workers union.  

Seven years ago, the UAW made a concession that I am convinced would have had Walter Reuther spinning in his grave.

They agreed to accept a two-tier wage system under which most new hires would be paid slightly less than half what long-time auto workers made.

Think about that.

This means most of them are earning less than $30,000 a year.  Can they buy a house with that salary?  Even buy one of the new cars and trucks they build?

You know the answer. Yet the union agreed, because it felt it had no choice.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly raised the issue of income inequality during a speech before the start of today’s Labor Day parade in Detroit.

Thousands of union workers packed the grounds of Old Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull to hear the Vice President speak. Biden was flanked on stage by  Teamsters President James P. Hoffa and United Auto Workers president Dennis Williams.  

Biden lashed out at corporations and the wealthy who make millions of dollars while union workers continue to struggle.


In the 1970s, at the height of its power, the United Auto Workers had more than 1.5 million members. Today it has fewer than 400,000. Some of the reasons behind that include an aging union workforce.

But it’s not just the UAW. As many in the labor movement turn to retirement, unions are looking to rebuild and reinvent with younger members.

Roland Zullo is with the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy at the University of Michigan.

Zullo said that job insecurity is the main reason why young people are not ready to join unions.

36th Constitutional Convention

Dennis Williams is the new president of the United Auto Workers Union, and members appear to be very optimistic about the leadership.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes told Stateside that the union views Williams as somebody who can be an innovative bargainer and bring a new perspective.

Howes in his column today said that Dennis Williams has his work cut out for him to correct the mistakes of his predecessor, Bob King. 

Williams is the first UAW president who never headed one of union’s main three departments: Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. He is also the first who has never worked in an auto plant.

*Listen to full interview above. 

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss how lawmakers approved giving $195 million to Detroit, the state of the United Auto Workers after members agreed to raise fees for the first time in nearly 50 years, and why lawmakers can't agree on road funding. 

  Once the United Auto Workers boasted a formidable membership with more than one and half million members. Today: that number is drastically smaller, almost three-fourths smaller, with 390-thousand members.

Much has been written about whether or not the UAW is dead.

But, on today's Stateside, we asked, with such dwindling numbers does it really matter? And, to whom?

There is still ice on Lake Superior in the beginning of June. What is the cause?

A literary map of Detroit as seen through the eyes of writers, author’s and storytellers provides insight of Detroit’s history.

Also, want a free house? Well, if you're a writer, and ready to move to Detroit, you might just be in luck.

But, first on Stateside…

Michigan’s roads are crumbling and people want them fixed. Some estimates say it could cost almost 2 billion dollars a year to fix them.

State lawmakers are in the midst of considering raising revenue through higher taxes on gas and that has raised a lot of debate around what we already pay at the pump.

Michigan Radio’s Mark Brush set out to sort this out for all of us. 

*Listen to full show above. 

The United Auto Workers union is holding its big convention in Detroit this week. Like America’s two major political parties, the UAW has a convention once every four years.

The union’s convention resembles national political conventions in another way, too. Everything is mostly decided ahead of time.

Once, conventions were the place where party and union members waged titanic battles to determine their next leaders.

Now, presidential nominees are determined long before the first and only ballot, and the same is true in the UAW. Dennis Williams, the union’s current secretary-treasurer, will be overwhelmingly elected to a four-year term as union president tomorrow.

That will follow what seems certain to be their first dues increase in many years, though it isn’t clear whether rank and file members would agree if they had a vote.

Union “democracy” tries to avoid dissension, on the theory that the workers are best served by solidarity at all levels.

Yet there is a major difference between the UAW and the political parties.  What isn’t clear is whether the union can survive, or more to the point, remain relevant.

The UAW is now far less important than it once was. They are trying to put a good face on it, but outgoing union president Bob King’s four years in office were pretty much a failure.

King wanted to be the next Walter Reuther, and lead the union to a new era of greatness. The key to that was going to be organizing “transplants,” foreign automakers manufacturing cars in America, mostly in the south.

DETROIT – General Motors is recalling 2.4 million vehicles in the U.S. as part of a broader effort to resolve outstanding safety issues more quickly.

The latest action brings to 13.6 million the number of vehicles GM has recalled this year, a new record for the automaker.  

The recalls announced Tuesday include 1.3 million older-model crossovers with defective front seat belts and 1 million sedans with a shift cable that can wear out. 

GM is also recalling 1,400 new Cadillac Escalade SUVs with faulty air bags. No fatalities related to the defects have been reported, GM says. It expects to take a $400 million charge in the second quarter to repair the vehicles. 

GM agreed to a $35 million federal fine last week for delays in reporting a deadly ignition switch defect.