Autoworkers' strike still looms over GM

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. FIND MORE STORIES IN: General Motors | Automotive | United Auto Workers | 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 closing.
"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 on concessions.
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."
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