Now it is spreading. As of 11:59 PM Saturday, 3,600 UAW workers walked off the job at Mack Truck plants in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. The UAW’s contract with Mack, which is owned by AB Volvo, expired October 1st. So, while that contract is not related to the one the UAW and GM are feuding over–as that stoppage enters day 29 on Monday—the issue remains the same as I have noted in several previous columns for Forbes. UAW leadership is fighting for relevance in the midst of massive legal problems among its senior executive team.
Unlike GM, Mack does not assemble vehicles or engines in Canada and Mexico. So, despite being owned by a Swedish company, Mack really is a domestic operation. Thus the UAW’s “build in America everything you sell in America” demand of GM is not relevant here.
What is relevant is the sharp slowdown in demand for heavy trucks in the U.S market. Orders for Class 8 trucks, the biggest of big rigs, fell 71% year-on-year in September. When I was following the car industry on the sell-side, I always watched the heavy truck market as a harbinger of U.S. industrial demand. The huge drop-off in orders is yet another indication that the U.S. economy has slowed dramatically in the past few months.
So, that makes me wonder what UAW leadership is trying to gain from this strike. Across the industry, heavy truck markers have been announcing downtime and fewer shifts, and even Mack had previously indicated it would slow production in the fourth quarter. So, what leverage does the UAW gain by stopping production at a manufacturer whose management was looking to slow production anyway?
The UAW’s statement announcing the strike noted:
“(U)nresolved issues include wage increases, job security, COLA, wage progression, skilled trades, shift premium, holiday schedules, work schedules, health and safety, seniority, pension, 401(k), health care and prescription drug coverage, overtime, subcontracting and temporary and supplemental workers.”
So, basically everything. Can that really be true? Is it 1932? Is Mack running sweatshops in Macungie, PA and Hagerstown, MD? No, of course not.
As this strike is less sensible to me than even the GM stoppage—which I have railed against in several Forbes columns—I have to consider conspiracy theories. Is the UAW trying to put the kibosh on the amazing record of employment growth that the Trump Administration has produced in its first three years, especially in key swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania? Is UAW leadership consciously trying to slow the U.S. economy ahead of the 2020 election?
I try not to engage in conspiracy theories. But the UAW ‘s leverage versus any heavy truck maker is at its lowest in years, and I hope that workers in Macungie and Middletown, PA—I grew up about halfway between those two towns—are aware of the issues and the bizarre timing of this stoppage. This is the first UAW action at Mack since 1984 just as GM is now experiencing its longest UAW stoppage since 1970. After so many years …why now?
I will leave those answers to “labor experts” who seem to have very few of them, at least in the articles I have read. The bottom line is that it is more damage to the already-slowing U.S. economy.