UAW strike expected to impact supply chain

With union members at three different plants, including Toledo Jeep, now walking the picket lines, we take a look at how quickly we could see the ripple effect.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 11:13 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s been about 23 hours since the UAW’s contract with Stellantis, Ford and GM expired. With union members at three different plants, including Toledo Jeep, now walking the picket lines, we’re taking a look at how quickly we could see the ripple effect on the auto supply chain.

Friday was day one of the walkout at Toledo’s Jeep plant, where almost 6,000 UAW Local 12 members came to work. But as of our 11 p.m. broadcast, UAW Local 12 members were still walking the picket line and production has ground to a halt. But how long could it take for auto suppliers that don’t fall directly under the Big Three umbrella to feel the hurt?

UAW Local 12 members are making their voices heard. With production shut down at Stellantis in Toledo, GM in Wentzville, Missouri, and Ford in Wayne, Michigan, supply chain manufacturers could take a hit from this, too.

“In most supply chains, it takes a while for a shutdown to really trickle throughout the supply chain,” said Dr. William Sawaya, who is a supply chain management professor at BGSU. “For the last 40 or so years, there’s been a trend in the United States to adopt ‘just in time’ or ‘lean’ or what is sometimes called the ‘Toyota production system’. In that system, they try to reduce the inventory that’s sitting around because it’s less expensive and it improves quality to not have it sitting around. And so what that means, is oftentimes suppliers are delivering things directly to the factory, just in time to be built into the cars. Because of that, any type of stoppage can actually affect the suppliers, sometimes as soon as that same day.”

However, UAW leaders are implementing a specific strategy to try and fight for their fair share against the Big Three automakers. Instead of sending all 146,000 workers on strike at once, leaders are launching targeted or staggered walkouts.

“Our union, normally they tell us things. But it was more hush-hush and that let us know that something was really not going in our favor,” said Mee Sanders, a team leader at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Complex.

Because only 9% of UAW members are walking the picket lines, some plants are still fully operational. So, what type of impact could this create?

“It would depend on the specific factories and who their suppliers are,” said Sawaya. “But my suspicion is, it’s enough to start moving the needle at a few suppliers here and there as they feel the impact of this. And I think if it lasts longer or if it expands, then of course that impact becomes greater.”

And while the union has only targeted three plants so far, those still working could be called on to strike at any minute.

“We’re gonna stick together. We’re gonna support our union because our union is backing us and understands what we’re worth,” said Sanders.

Sawaya says he doesn’t expect there to be supplier layoffs immediately, but expects it would be more likely to happen in a few weeks.