At General Motors, factories remain empty today as striking autoworkers enter their second month on the picket lines.
It is clear that this strike is beginning to impact more than the 46,000 United Auto Workers who walked off the job at midnight Sept. 16. In its first month, the strike cost UAW members, workers at parts suppliers and small businesses that provide products and services a combined $266 million in direct earnings, according to Anderson Economic Group in Michigan.
Missouri may seem far removed from GM’s base in the upper Midwest, but the company’s manufacturing sites are spread throughout the country. Earlier this year, debate over a $50 million state subsidy for GM’s Wentzville plant, near St. Louis, nearly derailed a broad economic-development bill.
Some St. Joseph residents made the 50-mile commute to work at the GM Fairfax plant, in Kansas City, Kansas. St. Joseph’s proximity to the plant, where the company makes the Chevrolet Malibu and is looking to add a Cadillac crossover line, created spillover opportunities at smaller fabrication and precision machining companies. These firms supply components needed for automotive production.
Fortunately, many of these smaller machine shops service multiple customers, so they still have business even with the damage from the GM strike.
That same can’t be said for vehicle owners who need repairs, especially for warranty work that requires GM parts. Across the country, reports are emerging of mechanics and body shop technicians who are becoming wheeler-dealers as they try to locate parts that are unavailable or can’t be shipped because of the strike. Some customers may have to wait a week or more for repairs.
Earlier this year, public fatigue began to set in as the federal government shutdown entered its fifth week and elected officials began to sense political fallout on the horizon. At some point, the pressure and public dissatisfaction built to a point that the federal employees were called back to work.
Maybe General Motors doesn’t have as wide of an impact on our daily lives as the federal workforce, but it isn’t too far off. The ripple effect of this strike hits small towns, suppliers, mechanics, vehicle owners and eventually the dealers themselves.
The issues, like always, involve money. Management and labor are debating about the future of idled plants, temporary workers and the speed of wage progression for those who were hired recently at a lower rate.
At some point, they will meet at the bargaining table with their own narrow interests in mind. They should take a moment to look out the window — if there is one — and contemplate the wider impact.