DETROIT – United Auto Workers voted overwhelmingly to give union leaders the go-ahead to strike during contract negotiations with the big three automakers.
Disruption and corruption loom large over the negotiations. Technology, trade, uncertainty, slow auto sales and a federal investigation could make this year's talks heated.
Officials have been working on local agreements for a couple of months, but after Labor Day, the heavy lifting of the national talks begin. They're going to start in one of the General Motors Renaissance Center towers, as UAW officials chose GM as the lead company.
The big three automakers and the UAW do pattern bargaining, which means the first company sets the pattern for the others.
Auto Talks labor expert Arthur Schwartz said he thought the UAW would pick Ford as the lead company, but he said there's a strategy.
"The one you have the biggest beef with, because that's the issue that you're trying to get at and that's what they decided to do, is the rank and file are really focused on this plant issue," Schwartz said.
Kristin Dziczek, an analyst for the Center for Automotive Research, said the decision makes perfect sense.
"The only company that has had a pullback from investment in the unallocated plants is GM, so that unit in this message has carried through from last November through the bargaining convention," Dziczek said.
The elephant in the room is the FBI and IRS raid last week at UAW President Gary Jones' home in Canton Township.
Dziczek said that isn't likely to affect talks because the contract is bigger than leadership.
"This is really not a good time to have this be going on, but the companies really need the union to be able to deliver a ratified contract, so they can come up with any tentative agreement at the table, but it's up to the union to sell that to the membership," Dziczek said.
The situation is fluid. If talks with GM don't go well, UAW officials can pack up and move to Ford, but neither side wants the negotiations to drag out.
Experts said it's possible the process could last into the holiday season.