Editorial: UAW, don't walk out
Don't do it.
That's our advice to the United Auto Workers as it weighs whether to take its members out on strike should negotiations with the Big Three automakers fail to produce a contract by the 11:59 p.m. Saturday deadline.
This would be the worst possible moment for a damaging work stoppage.
Both the automakers and the union are going through a period of instability, as well as tremendous uncertainty about the future.
UAW officials must know that it's a lot easier to take workers out on strike than it is to bring them back to their jobs.
That could be particularly true this year, with so many top union leaders caught up in a federal investigation into bribery and kickbacks that has already led to nine convictions.
The probe has reached the union's top ranks; the home of President Gary Jones was recently raided by the FBI.
Since part of the investigation involves bribes paid to influence past contract talks, members are right to worry about whether Jones and his team are bargaining in their best interest. They may not trust any proposal Jones brings them, and thus refuse to ratify it as a form of protest. That could easily turn what should have been a short strike into a much longer one.
The UAW has taken note of the decade-long run of high profits posted by General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and FCA-Chrysler, and understandably wants to claw back some of the concessions it has made over the years to help keep the automakers afloat.
The union wants base wage increases, more job security and stricter limits on temporary workers.
But there are signs that the boom years may be coming to a close. Sales have weakened somewhat recently.
But the bigger worry is uncertainty over trade policy.
The tariffs already imposed by the Trump administration are cutting into profit margins, and the ones the president is threatening could drive costs much higher.
Despite past contract give-backs, the domestic manufacturers are still at a competitive disadvantage with the foreign automakers who operate in the United States. For GM, the labor cost gap is $13 an hour; for Ford it's $11 and FCA is at $5.
A contract that widens the advantage of the foreign companies risks cutting into market share of the Big Three.
GM is the strike target. As always, the hype for a walkout is running high. Some experts predict that instead of a targeted strike at one key facility, this could be a company-wide action, shutting down everything.
Jones may see a strike as just the thing he needs to rally membership to his support and turn the narrative of the scandal away from any alleged misdeeds by union leadership and toward the companies and federal government.
But despite the warning signs, conditions are still relatively good for auto companies and autoworkers. Profits are high, and so are profit sharing checks.
Putting that record stretch of prosperity at risk with a strike would be self-destructive, and frankly, foolish.