Union members green light strike action ahead of UAW contract talks

United Auto Workers union members have given their leaders authorisation to strike during contract negotiations this year with General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler, if needed, media reports said.

According to CNBC, the union on Tuesday announced about 96% of members at each of the automakers supported the action, slightly down from negotiations four years ago, when workers at GM and Fiat Chrysler supported a strike by 97% and Ford at 98%.

GM will lead the negotiations which come amid a slowdown in US vehicle sales, a volatile trade environment and a widening federal probe into union corruption that led to UAW president Gary Jones' home being searched last week by federal officials, the business broadcaster noted.

It added Jones had not been charged as part of the multiyear probe which led to the convictions of eight union and company officials affiliated with Fiat Chrysler. Charges were also filed last month against Michael Grimes, a former UAW official assigned to the union's GM department, for allegedly receiving US$2m in kickbacks from UAW vendors.

CNBC saud the "strike authorisation vote" was part of the union's constitution and viewed as a rudimentary step in the negotiations. The voting results are historically almost unanimous in support of the authorisation though the vote does not mean there will or will not be a strike.

Jones, in a release cited by CNBC announcing the voting results, said no one goes into collective bargaining wanting a strike, but it is a "key tool in the toolbelt as our bargaining team sits across from the company".

The report noted the 2019 negotiations will set the wages and benefits for 158,000 auto workers and lay out the investment plans in the coming years for the companies. Current contracts expire on 14 September but not uncommon for that deadline to be pushed back weeks, if not months.

CNBC said GM was expected to have the toughest negotiations with the union amid plans to potentially close four US facilities, including large assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio after CEO Mary Barra announced plans late last year that would impact about 14,000 jobs as GM prepares for a soft economy and a shift to electric and autonomous vehicles.

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