Before we paint a picture of the 2015 negotiations between the UAW and the Detroit 3, let's start with a picture. Actually, a photo op -- three of them.
When the two sides stand before the popping flash guns this week, when UAW hands are extended to open automaker palms, for one moment, ceremony and symbolism will snap together.
Unions and automakers, side by side. Equal.
Another official "handshake week" will go into the books -- and the unofficial hand-wringing will begin.
Fair pay. Equal share. Benefits. Productivity. It will all be on the table during what's expected to be a tense summer of "you promised this" and "you owe me that."
Fair enough. But imagine for a moment that the pictures were different -- that instead of just negotiating terms, the two sides bargained their relationship.
Automakers have spent eight decades primarily treating the UAW first as a nuisance, then as an adversary, and only recently, as an occasional partner. But what if during these talks, automakers treated the UAW as they would any Tier 1 supplier?
In the modern industry, automakers and suppliers have no choice but to make a total commitment to each other on product programs. They have a stake in a positive and profitable outcome.
Like a Tier 1 supplier, labor is a vital component in a complex chain of innovation and partnership.
The UAW-Detroit 3 tradition, of course, has been far more acrimonious, one built on wins, losses and face-saving tactics. It has too often been a battle zone.
An automaker would not ask a top supplier to hold price increases for more than a decade. A supplier would not be expected to achieve higher levels of productivity without sharing in those gains. What if the UAW and the Detroit 3 saw things in this way?
The timing is right for a very different approach. The UAW still has the ability to seriously cripple, or derail, much of the progress made within the industry over the last four years.
Yes, there is a level of fairness to be gained on wage rates. In the same vein, the Detroit 3 should view their labor partners as just that: partners.
Both sides have a tremendous opportunity to rewrite tradition.
Fundamentally, every part of the industry has changed. Why should this be different?
Renegotiate the relationship. It's time.
Get the picture?