Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Trench Warfare In Detroit

The UAW is using sudden local strikes to battle job cuts

Remember last fall, when Detroit auto makers insisted that the contracts they signed with the United Auto Workers would leave them plenty of room to make much-needed efficiency gains? Today those claims ring increasingly hollow. After two local strikes at General Motors Corp. and another at Chrysler Corp. in the past month, UAW leaders have made it clear that there will be precious little labor peace in Detroit. Sure, the contracts signed in September allow carmakers to trim at least 5% of their blue-collar jobs. But the UAW has served notice that it won't give up those jobs without a fight. "The strike caught us a bit off-guard," concedes one Chrysler official, referring to the walkout of 1,800 workers at a Detroit engine plant.

The spate of walkouts illustrates just how much power the UAW still holds over the Big Three. The industry avoided a national walkout in the fall by agreeing to guarantee 95% of all current jobs for three years. But UAW President Stephen P. Yokich can still hit the companies hard by authorizing local strikes, as he did several times at GM during the last three-year contract.