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Momentum and strategy favor labor in UAW strike, says SU professor

People hold up signs supporting the United Auto Workers Union outside a Ford factory.
Alex McLenon
Striking UAW workers picket in front of the Ford assembly plant in Wayne, MI outside of Detroit.

A Syracuse University industrial and labor relations expert says the unprecedented United Auto Workers strike against the big three American carmakers has significant implications for both sides of the bargaining table.  On Tuesday, the impasse entered its fifth day.

Associate Professor of Management at SU’s Whitman School Lynne Vincent says labor has momentum on its side, despite a record low unionization rate of 10 percent. She says successful outcomes at UPS, and some Starbucks and Amazon facilities gives the UAW more leverage.

“I think they are considering that momentum as part of the reason why they are using aggressive tactics where they previously did not," Vincent said. "They are considering the greater labor movement. They are considering the political environment. They are considering the economic environment.”

Vincent says while the union has legal restrictions and less power, the autoworkers have creatively maneuvered the few bargaining chips they have to give themselves more leverage. For example, she says there’s the calculated strategy to hold stand-up strikes at plants that impact each of the three car makers in different parts of the country.

“They're saying we like our jobs and we want to support the organizations, but you have to support us," Vincent said. "They chose some of the manufacturing plants that would harm the organizations less. I don't think they want to make them desperate. I don't think they want to take them out at the knees they want, I think what they're trying to say is come to the table.”

Vincent says the fact that the union isn’t telling the companies which plants they will strike puts the auto makers at a disadvantage because the factories can’t prepare for a walk-out.

Central New Yorkers might wonder what this means for the availability of cars if the work stoppage drags on. Vincent says it appears the big three automakers have about a 50 day supply of cars in the pipeline.

“I think people [will] still be able to buy cars," Vincent said. "The other factor is there are more competitors in the market.”

So, she says, that puts pressure on the union and the big three to reach an agreement sooner than later so they won’t lose market share.

Striking auto workers hold signs outside a factory.
Alex McLenon
Striking UAW workers gather outside the Wayne, MI Ford assembly plant.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at