At a time when Americans seem hopelessly divided, more than 3,000 union members at Nexteer Automotive in mid-Michigan made a stunning show of solidarity last week.
The UAW's proposed contract with Nexteer went down in flames so huge that the fire department is probably still sifting through the rubble. It got 80 "yes" votes.
Not 80 percent -- 80 people. Out of 3,183.
Somehow, 97 percent of workers, many of whom survived the dysfunction of the old General Motors and Delphi Automotive, didn't just tell Nexteer's new Chinese owners, "No"; they shouted -- and this is highly technical union terminology -- "Hell, no."
I don't even know that Donald Trump would lose in such staggering fashion if he ran for president of Pakistan right now.
There are two plausible explanations: Either the UAW couldn't get Nexteer to budge further without a mandate from the rank and file, which it now has, or negotiators were completely out of touch with the membership. Based on comments posted to the Local 699 Facebook page ("I think everyone who was at the bargaining table should be fired," one worker wrote), many are convinced it's the latter.
It's hard to imagine the UAW would put an agreement this widely hated to a vote unless they knew it would fail. But if union leaders did underestimate their members' anger and willingness to take a stand, it would be the third time in the past three months.
UAW members soundly defeated a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in September, forcing the parties back to the table for a revised agreement that later passed. It was the union's first rejection of a national contract since 1982. The deal with Ford Motor Co. was doomed until officials worked overtime marshaling support at the last big local to vote.
All three cases have appeared to worsen rifts within the membership, undoubtedly making many workers question what they're getting in return for their (recently increased) dues. FCA workers watched their counterparts at Ford and General Motors get a much richer signing bonus and profit-sharing formula. At Ford, 49 percent of workers are now bound by a contract they voted against.
With Michigan and other union-heavy states recently passing right-to-work laws that let dissatisfied workers opt out, this is a critical time for the UAW. The union needs to unite its membership -- even as its increasingly profitable employers play hardball -- before they start to view their own leadership as the enemy, too.