Here we go again.

On Sept. 15, the United Auto Workers union went on strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the first time in its history that it has struck all three of America’s unionized automakers at the same time.

Initially, the union called on workers to strike at a GM pickup truck plant in Wentzville, MO; the Ford factory in Wayne, MI, that makes the Bronco sport utility vehicle; and the Jeep plant in Toledo, OH, owned by Stellantis. A week later, the UAW expanded its strike to include all the spare-parts distribution centers of GM and Stellantis. (The UAW spared Ford’s centers because it says the OEM is closer to meeting the union’s demands.)

At press time, the affected locations include 18 GM distribution centers that employ a total of 3,475 workers, and 20 Stellantis centers with 2,150 UAW members. The move brings the total number of striking UAW workers to more than 18,000.

The union has made ambitious demands for wages, benefits and job protections. With all three automakers reporting record or near-record profits, the union was trying to recapture many benefits workers gave up more than a decade ago when the companies were on the brink of bankruptcy.

Specifically, the union is demanding a 40 percent increase over four years; the companies have offered about 20 percent. The UAW also wants more workers to qualify for pensions, company-paid retiree health care, shorter working hours, and job security for workers if the manufacturers close plants in the future. It also wants to end a wage system in which new hires start at about $17 an hour and must stay on the job eight years to climb up to the top wage of $32 an hour.

“This is our generation’s defining moment,” proclaims UAW’s president Shawn Fain in an online video. “The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up.”

For their part, the OEMs say they already pay production workers substantially more than rivals, like Tesla and Toyota, whose U.S. workers are not unionized. The companies also contend that such big raises would undermine their efforts to shift from making gas-powered vehicles to electric ones.

They have a point. “UAW leadership claims GM pays its team members ‘poverty’ wages. This is simply not true,” writes Mark Reuss, president of GM, in an opinion piece published in the Detroit Free Press. “In our current proposal, we are offering a 20 percent wage increase—including for temporary employees, who make up only 6 to 10 percent of our workforce. That means about 85 percent of current represented employees would earn a base wage of approximately $82,000 a year. In contrast, the average median household income in nine areas where GM has major assembly plants is $51,821. And total compensation for that 85 percent of the workforce, with overtime and benefits, would be more than $150,000 a year. In the 2019 contract, wages for hourly workers with less than one year of service earning $17 an hour had the potential to reach $32.32 an hour over the term of the contract. With our most recent proposal, some entry-level team members will get up to a maximum rate of $39.24 an hour at the end of the contract—for some workers, a 141 percent increase.”

The timing of the strike is problematic for reasons beyond the transition to EVs. For starters, the 2024 presidential election is looming, and the candidates are eager to show their support for workers, if not necessarily the union. President Biden said he would join workers in Michigan on the picket line on Sept. 26. The White House also sent Julie Su, acting secretary of labor, and Gene Sperling, a top White House economic adviser, to Michigan to help seek an end to the strike. Meanwhile, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is planning to speak in Michigan the next day.

Another problem is the Federal Reserve’s ongoing battle with inflation. On Sept. 20, Federal Reserve officials left interest rates unchanged and released an optimistic set of economic forecasts that showed inflation fading more swiftly this year even with a growing economy. How will the strike or a new labor agreement will affect that forecast? Certainly, new vehicles are not getting any more affordable. The average price of a new car is $48,450 in 2023, and ongoing supply shortages continue to exert upward pressure on prices.

I’m all for the auto workers getting paid, but the UAW’s demands this time around seem a bit much. I can’t see how the OEMs will be able to meet them, and I worry about the implications for the economy. The 2019 strike lasted more than a month, and a prolonged strike now could jeopardize the economic recovery.

Let’s hope for a fair agreement for both sides.