As Detroit Auto Show is built, shadow of UAW strike hangs over auto industry

For Kenneth Reinhardt, building the Detroit Auto Show brings a sense of pride that's hard to describe. 

Before all the glitz from the gala and the shine from Michigan's premier auto showcase, there's artful craft skills that must build the show from beams and stands into something else entirely.

"As a kid I came here with my family and then became a union contractor and continued the fun, but I get to build it now," said Reinhardt. "I try to tell my wife about it, but it's hard to describe."

On Friday night, the construction worker was laying carpet and building sets that would soon host the newest class of cars and trucks ready to be unveiled to the world.

"Many people don’t believe me either when I tell ‘em that I built the auto show but then like this they’re going to see me on TV and know," said Reinhardt.

Shawn Baumgart, a union steward described it like building "a city inside an empty building."

"It’s the Detroit Auto Show. You know what I mean? Everyone knows when you say Detroit Auto Show," said Baumgart.

This year's auto show comes with a mixture of emotions. The building up of the North American International Auto Show is employing one set of union contractors. But it's also hosting major auto manufacturers that are involved in negotiations with their own unions. 

MORE: Here's the UAW's ‘ambitious list’ of demands

And with less than a week until contracts with Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis expire, Detroit could be heading toward a union strike kicking off just a day after the auto show begins.

Earlier Friday, Shawn Fain who is the president of the United Auto Workers Union, referred to the counterproposals from the Big Three as "insulting" and "inadequate."

He also guaranteed that if an agreement isn't met, workers will leave the line at midnight next Thursday.

"Sept. 14 is a deadline, not a reference point for all three of these companies," he said over Facebook. 

MORE: Big gap remains between UAW demands and automaker offers 

"We want a deal, we're ready for a deal, but it has to be a deal that honors our members' sacrifice and contributions," Fain added. "The cost of a strike might be high, but the cost of not striking is higher."

And that could mean workers picketing in front of Huntington Place during the show's Charity Preview.