LAKE ORION, Mich. — A small squad of United Auto Workers members kept up the picket lines against General Motors as the company and union leaders bargained to end a nationwide strike that began Sept. 16.
We pulled up to the headquarters of UAW Local 5960 in a Chevy Bolt — not the Korean-built Kia Niro EV we also had during our time in Detroit. As we got to talking with the union leaders, it became clear that there's a third party at the bargaining table that won't easily come to terms — relentless technology in the form of a new generation of electric and self-driving cars that GM says it plans to produce.
At the offices a short distance from GM's vast Lake Orion plant, Local 5960 President Louis Rocha kept returning to the prospects and peril of technology. The Orion Assembly plant now builds the Chevrolet Bolt EV; the Sonic, a gasoline-fueled hatchback; and a Cruise test vehicle employing autonomous technology.
"Here we have the transition of going from a combustion engine right to an electric vehicle and possibly into an autonomous vehicle," Rocha said.
Yet technology is still a threatening presence for the nearly 900 hourly workers on the Orion's assembly line. The "beep-beep-beep" of automation could be tolling a death knell for jobs lost to robots and global competition.