UAW Authorizes Union Leaders To Strike During Contract Negotiations With GM, Ford, & Fiat

The United Auto Workers have "overwhelmingly" authorized union leaders to strike during contact negotiations with GM, Ford and Fiat this year - a move that would likely throw a massive wrench in the already grinding gears of the auto industry, which is mired in global recession, according to CNBC

On Tuesday, the union announced that roughly 96% of members at each of the automakers supported the action. This number is down from negotiations four years ago, when workers at GM and Fiat supported a strike by 97% and 98%, respectively. 

GM is expected to lead the negotiations, which are being called "the most contentious in at least a decade" due to industry slowdowns and the ongoing trade war. Negotiations are also expected to be tough due to GM's plans to potentially shutter four U.S. facilities in Michigan and Ohio. 

At the same time, there is an ongoing (and widening) Federal probe into union corruption that resulted in UAW President Gary Jones' home being searched last week by federal officials. 

The probe has already resulted in convictions of eight union and company officials associated with Fiat. Charges were also filed against Michael Grimes, a former UAW official that was assigned to GM's department and who allegedly took $2 million in kickbacks from UAW vendors. Jones has not been charged. 

Any type of strike could be extremely detrimental to the industry, given its precarious state. For example, in 2007, a two day strike against GM stopped production at more than 80 facilities and cost the automaker more than $300 million a day. 

Negotiations this year will affect the wages and benefits for 158,000 auto workers and will lay out investment plans in coming years for the companies. Current contracts are set to expire on September 14, but this deadline is often pushed back weeks or months. 

Jones called the vote a "key tool in the toolbelt as our bargaining team sits across from the company."

Authorizing a strike through a vote is one of the "rudimentary" steps in the negotiating process and is part of the union's constitution. Results of the strike vote are almost always unanimous and don't mean that there is, or will be, a strike.