DETROIT — In the days before the UAW called a historic strike against the Detroit 3 last week, the result of the automakers' contract negotiations shifted from seeming unpredictable to looking unavoidable.
From the outset, the union's first-year president, Shawn Fain, had shaken up the normally confidential bargaining process — skipping the traditional handshakes, publicizing formerly closed-door proceedings and mobilizing his membership through social media broadcasts and in-person rallies.
But in public and in private, executives from the automakers suggested last week — sometimes not so subtly — that Fain didn't necessarily want to reach a deal before sending thousands of workers onto picket lines.
Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley said Fain didn't show up to meet with him and Executive Chair Bill Ford two days before the deadline and that the company "heard nothing" from the union until the final hours. General Motors CEO Mary Barra told CNBC she was "frustrated"; the company's workers "didn't need to be on strike right now," she said Friday. Stellantis, in a statement, said it was "extremely disappointed by the UAW leadership's refusal to engage in a responsible manner."
Hours before the deadline, Fain was at the bargaining table with multiple automakers, according to people with direct knowledge of the talks. But the people, who requested anonymity to discuss private negotiations, say the tone was superficial and that discussions ceased by 10 p.m., when Fain began a Facebook livestream to announce that workers at one assembly plant from each of the three automakers would strike at midnight.
One source said it was a "foregone conclusion that this strike action was predetermined."