The quadrennial UAW-Detroit 3 labor negotiations are already a time of high stress and anxious impatience for tens of thousands of families on both sides of the table. But this year, they're made even worse by a growing federal probe into the illicit conduct of some in the highest ranks of the union, as well as an American president keen to passively interject himself — via tweet — into the inner workings of one of the nation's largest and most complicated industries.
Regardless of their eventual outcome, the talks must be allowed to reach their natural conclusion free of outside intervention from either law enforcement or President Donald Trump.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, the contracts between the UAW and General Motors, Ford, and FCA US will officially expire, and one of three things will happen: replacement agreements will be reached, the current contracts will be extended or work will stop.
Experience shows that it's highly likely bargaining won't be done by the expiration date — probably not at GM, which is the UAW's "target" in pattern bargaining this year, and certainly not at Ford or FCA, which must largely sit and wait for the pattern to be set with GM before proceeding to completion.
Will there be a strike, or strikes? Could there be a lockout? Will the flow of Detroit 3 automobiles to dealerships be interrupted? Will families be forced to live on savings and strike pay, impacting the broader economy? Could a potential work stoppage be a tipping point that could slip the U.S. into an actual recession?
These questions aren't new: They've been asked before the completion of previous contracts. They're a natural part of the process. But this time, there are a couple of new, unnatural questions to ponder: Could an ongoing federal corruption probe at the UAW actually threaten the completion of bargaining a new agreement? Will prosecution of union leaders keep members from ratifying an agreement? Would Trump actively intervene in some way to aid his reelection effort?
The truth is, we won't know what the effects of these talks will be until they are concluded, one way or another.
The road to a labor deal is already rough. Let's not force any unnecessary detours.
The next four years in this industry depend on it.