This is a punch in the nose, not a knife to the chest.
When the United Auto Workers released its strike tactics late Thursday – targeting one plant each at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis – two things were immediately clear: The union is starting small, and the union initially wants to inflict pain, not do serious damage to the automakers.
Initially, the feared nationwide strike against all three companies is still a threat to be feared. Only 2.5 plants will go down for now:
- GM Wentzville Assembly (near St. Louis, Missouri). About 4,000 workers have ceased making the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon small pickups and the Chevy Express and GMC Savana commercial vans.
- Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex (Toledo, Ohio). More than 5,500 workers have turned off the tap for the Jeep Wrangler SUV and Gladiator pickup.
- Ford Michigan Assembly Plant (near Detroit, Michigan). Here’s where it gets even odder. The plant has 4,900 people making Ranger light pickups and Bronco SUVs, but the full plant isn’t a strike target – just paint and assembly operations.
Instead of the 150,000-member strike that many had feared, the start of the 2023 labor action is closer to 15,000. More importantly, look at the vehicles. The Bronco, Wrangler and Colorado are all popular, profitable products, but they’re not vital to their parent companies.
If UAW President Shawn Fain was out for blood, workers would be off the line at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, plant, crippling output of the F-150 pickup. At GM, keep an eye on Arlington Assembly outside of Dallas, Texas, home of the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade. Stellantis is taking the biggest hit with the loss of the popular Jeep lineup, but that still doesn’t hurt as much as the potential loss of Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit where it makes Ram pickups.
Fain is clearly following the advice of famed musical philosopher Nigel Tufnel who noted that you always need room to escalate—that’s why the volume on his amps went up to 11 instead of 10.
“You’re on 10 on your guitar, where can you go from there? If we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? 11. Exactly. One louder,” Tufnel said in the 1984 documentary This is Spinal Tap.
The UAW said something similar Thursday night when it introduced the 3-plant strike plan. On a website explaining the action to members, union leaders said things are just getting started.
“The Stand Up Strike gives your national negotiators maximum flexibility,” UAW leaders said. “The Stand Up Strike gives our union the ability to escalate all the way up to a national, all-out work stoppage if necessary. It keeps the companies guessing and builds economic leverage against the Big Three over time if they refuse to negotiate a contract we deserve.”