DETROIT (AP) — More than 96 percent of United Auto Workers union members have voted to authorize strikes against Detroit's three automakers. The union said Tuesday the vote means leadership is authorized to call strikes against General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. But it doesn't mean there will be a work stoppage.
Contracts with the automakers expire at 11:59 p.m. September 14.
Later this week the union is expected to name a target company that will be the focus of bargaining. A deal with that company is likely to set the pattern for the others. If there is a strike, it would be against the target.
Many observers expect a strike as the union seeks pay raises and the companies seek cost parity with foreign automakers that have plants in the U.S. In a statement, the union said 96.4 percent of workers at General Motors voted to authorize a strike, while it was 95.98 percent at Ford and 96 percent at Fiat Chrysler.
The union represents about 152,000 workers at the three companies.
Tension is high this year because the companies have been making billions of dollars in profits, and workers want a bigger slice. But the automakers are looking to trim hourly labor costs, which have grown when compared with Southern U.S. factories run by Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai-Kia, Volkswagen and others. General Motors also has announced plans to shutter four factories in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland, which the union has pledged to fight.
Fiat Chrysler pays about $55 per hour in wages and benefits to UAW workers, while it's $61 at Ford and $63 at GM. That compares with an average of $50 per hour at plants owned by foreign-based automakers, according to the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank.
Also playing into the talks is a corruption investigation into the union's leadership. Last week federal agents searched the suburban Detroit home of union President Gary Jones, and several union leaders and executives have been found guilty of taking money from a training center run jointly by the UAW and Fiat Chrysler.
Jones, who has not been charged, marched in Detroit's Labor Day parade but exited the route before its completion and didn't speak to union members. About 20 marchers carried signs calling for the union to be reformed.