Workers at individual plants can strike only over local bargaining issues, and UAW President Shawn Fain made clear that the walkouts he plans to order late Thursday in the absence of new deals with the automakers would relate to national issues.
But labor law experts say the union has legal cover to implement its unprecedented "stand-up strike" plan because it would be happening under an expired contract.
Any walkout would occur only after the current four-year deals run out at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Fain said the union absolutely will not agree to extend the contract, which has often happened in past negotiations if a deal seems close.
Most terms and conditions of the contract continue to be enforced after it expires, and management must maintain the status quo on items such as wages, overtime pay, bonuses, break time and profit sharing. But the contract's no-strike clause also expires, along with provisions related to arbitration, union security and management rights.
The expiration of that no-strike clause gives the union leeway to strike at whatever plants it wants, experts told Automotive News.
"This allows our union to call on a local to stand up and strike at a moment's notice," Ben Dictor, the UAW's legal counsel, said Thursday in a video explaining the situation to members.
Fain said the UAW planned to increase the number of striking plants as more time passes without a deal as a way of keeping the companies guessing and maximizing the union's leverage.