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Did the UAW pull the old 'Higher Power' gambit on FCA?

UAW President Dennis Williams and FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne announced the original contract deal in an unusual joint press conference.

In Negotiating 101, it’s known as the “Higher Power” gambit -- that move toward the end of the negotiation that says “Well, it’s OK with me, but I gotta check with the boss.”

In the traditional car dealership, it’s the role of the sales manager to close the deal, to serve as the boss and get the best deal in the negotiation.

But UAW President Dennis Williams looks as though he used the old “Higher Power” gambit to get a much better deal for his 40,000 members at Fiat Chrysler than he got at the bargaining table in his first go-around last month.

In Williams’ case, his “Higher Power” was the membership that rejected his first tentative agreement with FCA by a 2-to-1 margin.

To an outside observer, it might have looked like a stunning rebuke of the UAW leadership. But in reality, that rebuke -- which emboldened and mobilized his membership and drew their laserlike attention on the contract talks and a threatened strike -- helped Williams’ hand at the bargaining table.

In essence, what Williams and the UAW bargainers were able to say after the rejection was: “Well, that last agreement was OK with us, but man, those other guys are crazy! We’ve got to have more or there’s no telling what’s going to happen!”

Did they get a better deal? It sure looks like it on paper. Of course, the UAW membership will get the last say as they vote on ratification.

The only real question to me is whether the successful “Higher Power” gambit Williams played was an intentional strategy -- or an accidental byproduct.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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