Ceremonial handshakes are over as UAW and Big Three talks begin

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UAW teams from Ford and General Motors were on hand Tuesday as Fiat Chrysler began contract negotiations with the union -- the last of the Big Three to shake hands and start the process.

"In February, we had an awesome announcement that we will build the first new assembly plant in Detroit city limits in three decades," Mark Stewart, COO of FCA North America said.

Stewart elicited applause for Fiat Chrysler's new assembly plant coming to Detroit, struck a unifying tone while also emphasizing the new direction the industry is headed. It's a transformation fueled by new technology, electrification and the environment.

"I'm really looking forward to continue with the UAW in creating those new opportunities together," he said.

The UAW, as with Ford and General Motors, is concentrating on the automakers' record profits and the union's demands to benefit from them through higher wages, and job protection for nearly 150,000 members.

"My brothers and sisters who build these cars and trucks and SUVs and who stood by this company and made sacrifices to ensure its survival expect to share in those profits. When you needed us we were there - and we expect no less in return," said Gary Jones, UAW president.

Earlier in the day, outside General Motors, protestors from the now-shuttered Lordstown plant in Ohio were there as the same ceremonial handshake played out upstairs. 

General Motors chair and CEO Mary Barra emphasized the need to be nimble as technology, tastes and trade policies change.

"Today we are at a turning point when it comes to the transformation of the industry and this company - our collective future is at stake - we cannot move forward without one another," she said.

UAW President Gary Jones is putting it this way: "We invested in you - now it's your turn to invest in us."

The union is now negotiating separate contracts with each of the big three automakers, hoping to avert a strike and eventually selecting one company to be the target

"They will concentrate specifically on that one manufacturer trying to get a pattern agreement they can then bicycle to the other manufacturers here in Detroit," said Paul Eisenstein, thedetroitbureau.com.

Auto analyst Paul Eisenstein describes it as a multi-level game of chess playing out over the next two months.

"Some manufacturers will actually try to go first because they want to set the pattern that gives them the best deal," Eisenstein said. "But could also weaken the competition."

With the last of the ceremonial handshakes over the real work beings as the contract expires Sept. 14 with much work to be done.