DETROIT — Can the UAW get deals with the Detroit 3 — and persuade its restless membership to approve them — without a strike?
That's among the top questions looming over this year's contract talks, as outrage over layoffs and increased use of foreign labor courses through the union at a time when the automakers are highly profitable but girding for potentially leaner times ahead.
The stage is set for the most difficult labor battle in Detroit since at least 2007, when the UAW last called a national strike against automakers. But if there is an impasse, experts say, the union might employ a more strategic approach to smoke out a better deal without ordering its full membership at a given company to sacrifice the bulk of their paychecks and march on picket lines.
Bottleneck strikes, in which workers gain leverage by halting production at key plants to create a ripple effect, have become a more favored weapon in the UAW's arsenal than national strikes as its membership has dwindled and fractured. Such a tactic limits the union's cost for strike pay and shifts some of the cost of associated layoffs to the automaker. The most notable example is a 1998 strike of two General Motors plants in Flint, Mich., that took nearly 200,000 workers at about 30 other GM assembly plants and 100 North American parts plants off the job for almost two months, costing GM some $2 billion.