Autoworkers' strike still looms over GM
DETROIT — As contract negotiations grind on between the United Auto
Workers union and General Motors (GM) a week after the last pact
expired, antsy local union leaders say they need only word from
headquarters to take their workers on strike.
But whether the union actually would strike this year is a matter of
debate. Some industry watchers doubt that call will ever come. The
union, they argue, has far more to lose than GM if it goes on strike.
"They can't afford one on any dimension, either on public relations or
with GM," says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive
Research. He dismissed the UAW's strike preparations as "theatrics."
Some labor experts disagree. "The strike remains the union's ultimate
weapon," says Harley Shaiken, a labor studies expert at the University
of California, Berkeley. "There has been a lot of speculation that
they're rattling the saber to be theatric. It's not theater. It is
exercising the union's leverage in what could prove to be a critical
point in its history."
Contract negotiations have been ongoing with GM, Ford Motor and Chrysler
since July. Last week, the UAW picked GM as the strike target — the
company it will negotiate with first and strike at if necessary. The
contracts expired at midnight last Friday, and the union has been
extending its contract with GM on an hour-by-hour basis since.
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| David Cole
Talks are hung up on the automaker's desire to set up a union-controlled
retiree health care trust.
In a letter to local leaders this week, the union cautioned that if
negotiations don't "accelerate in an expeditious manner," it may set a
firm deadline for talks to end. After that, the union could strike.
Cole says GM may be willing to risk a strike or a lockout to make its
point: Labor costs must come down dramatically.
Although a strike would be costly, the UAW has a $1 billion strike fund
to tap. Still, workers would earn just $200 a week, provided they walked
the picket lines.
"While I would hate to see the hardship on the community and the members
and families, if it's necessary, it's necessary," says Dave Green,
president of Local 1714 in Lordstown, Ohio, a plant that is at risk of
"Personally, I think we need a strike, and some of us feel it is long
overdue," says Gregg Shotwell, a labor activist. Shotwell is critical of
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger's willingness to work with the automakers
But, he noted, most UAW members would rather keep the current contract
than face pay cuts or job losses. If it takes weeks to hammer out a
deal, that's fine, he says. "We do not have to be in a hurry."