Targeted car strikes could spread to other states and cities as the union’s noon deadline approaches

The nation's largest automakers — and auto buyers everywhere — will learn Friday whether the United Auto Workers union will escalate its strike over a demand for higher wages, a shorter work week and other benefits.

UAW President Shawn Fain is expected to announce whether the union will expand a weeklong strike that has so far been limited to three plants — one each at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

Fein said earlier this week that he would call on workers at more plants to strike unless there was significant progress in contract negotiations with the automakers. Negotiations continued on Thursday, although neither side reported any significant progress, and they remained a long way off on wage increases.

Fewer than 13,000 of the union's 146,000 members are participating in the strike so far. The companies have laid off a few thousand more, saying some factories are short of parts because of the strike.

But the impact is yet to be felt on car lots across the country – it will likely be a few weeks before the strike causes a significant shortage of new vehicles, analysts say. But prices could rise even sooner if the prospect of a protracted strike sparks panic buying.

The union is seeking pay rises of 36% over four years, an end to the lowest wage scales for young workers and, most audaciously, a 32-hour work week for 40 hours of pay. Car companies say they can't meet union demands despite huge profits because they have to invest in converting to electric vehicles.

Friday's decision is critical for Fein, who won a close election in March to unseat the previous UAW president. He pursued an unusual strategy of simultaneously negotiating with all three major Detroit automakers.

Workers went on strike a week ago at three assembly plants – a Ford plant near Detroit, a GM plant outside St. Louis and a Stellantis-owned Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.

Instead, Unifor, which represents Canadian auto workers, has taken a more traditional approach: It chose a target company last month, Ford, and announced a tentative deal this week, hours before a strike deadline. If the deal is ratified, Unifor expects GM and Stellantis to agree to similar contracts for Canadian workers.

Tensions were high in Detroit ahead of Fain's planned announcement.

The Detroit News reported Thursday that a representative for Fain wrote in a private group chat on X, formerly Twitter, that union negotiators aimed to inflict “repeated reputational damage and operational chaos” on the automakers and “if we can keep them hurt for months they don't know what to do.”

Ford and GM seized on the messages as a sign of bad faith by the UAW.

“It is now clear that the UAW leadership always intended to cause months of disruption, regardless of the damage it causes to its members and their communities,” GM said in a statement.

Ford spokesman Mark Truby called the messages “disappointing, to say the least, given what's at stake for our employees, the companies and this region.”

UAW spokesman Jonah Furman would not confirm the authorship of the messages, which were linked to the same image as X's account, and called them “private messages” that “you shouldn't have,” the newspaper reported.