While car prices and inventories are among the immediate impacts of the dispute, we should be mindful of how all workers are helped or hurt by the eventual outcome.
The expansion of the United Auto Workers strike into Wisconsin will bring direct impact to parts of the state economy, but there is also an indirect impact coming to workers across the state depending on the eventual resolution of this conflict.
On Friday, the UAW announced that the initial “stand up” strike by around 13,000 workers at three factories would grow to include 38 locations across 20 states. In Wisconsin, workers will picket at a Stellantis distribution center in Milwaukee and a General Motors parts distribution facility in Hudson.
Wisconsin lost its major auto plants in 2008 (Janesville, General Motors) and 2010 (Kenosha, Chrysler). But as you can see, even without the factories, Wisconsin has many jobs with only minimal separation from the factory strikers. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation told WTMJ-TV there are 127,000 Wisconsin workers who supply parts and materials to the affected factories, whose $8 billion in combined income generated $1 billion in tax revenue to the state.
There are also Wisconsin auto dealers who recorded $17 billion in sales last year, with their own total payroll of $1.5 billion. If the automakers won’t come to terms with their workers, both sectors will experience significant pain that will ripple through the state economy.
Consumers, of course, will feel the impact if they were hoping to make a purchase in the near future. Inventories, only recently recovered from the pandemic, would temporarily drop and prices would rise.
You might not be in the market to purchase a new car right now. You might not know anyone working in an automotive factory. But you—and every American—have a stake in the fight by auto workers to win respect and a new contract that reflects the changing times. The alternative is a continued diminishment of workplace dignity as the wealth gaps—already a chasm—becomes a canyon.
The auto workers watched as they and all of us—the taxpayers—bailed out the automotive industry during the Great Recession. Now workers are rightly insisting on sharing in profits that have skyrocketed 92% from 2013 to 2022, according to the Economic Policy Institute. CEO pay has jumped 40%, and billions has been spent on stock buybacks rather than on wages or the coming transition to electric vehicles.
Because of their workforce size and bargaining power, auto workers have paychecks that are often higher than many of their neighbors. That’s a good thing. It sets a standard for the rest of the labor force. (As it did with the creation of weekends, paid holidays, sick pay, and much more.) Conversely, if corporate power can break this union—or the writers and actors, or the many small workplaces where baristas or video game designers want better conditions—it will only make it harder for everyone to afford daycare, afford a new car, afford to grow old.
Recently a multi-millionaire Australian property manager went viral for remarks about the need “to see pain in the economy.” Timothy Gurner was bemoaning the sentiment “where the employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around. We’ve got to kill that attitude [and] remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around.”
Gurner’s disgusting attitude is not an anomaly. And if workers, from time to time, don’t stand up and send a message that their employers, in fact, are lucky to have them, workplace dignity will roll backward and pick up speed. Strikes aren’t fun. They’re not meant to be. They’re meant to plant a flag—for all of us who work today, and those who follow us and will thank us for standing with the UAW at this important juncture in American labor history.
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