Editorial:What's good for GM is good for the UAW
A national strike of General Motors Corp. by the United Auto Workers
doesn't help anyone, but it certainly hurts -- the workers, the company,
the domestic auto industry and Michigan.
The strike is surprising considering the positive tone of the
negotiations prior to the walkout. We can't say for certain what
triggered the action. But we know that for the good of both the company
and the workers, it must end in the spirit of cooperation and with all
sides certain of a more secure future.
Union President Ron Gettelfinger said the union didn't want to walk out,
but that the company wasn't willing to give it what it wanted in the way
of job guarantees and other protections.
"The company walked right up to the deadline like they really didn't
care," he said at a news conference on Monday.
Gettelfinger should take that attitude to heart. GM and the other
domestic automakers must come out of these talks with a transformational
Anything less and they might as well shut down. A strike simply hastens
Despite having access to GM's financial statements and projections and
having made some preliminary concessions in the last two years, the UAW
still believes the work force is entitled to perks that no longer are
sustainable in today's global economy.
Union members on the picket line Monday railed against the big salaries
and bonuses of a few top executives. They seemed not to be aware that
they are the best paid factory workers in the world.
Gettelfinger says job protection is one of the major issues in the
dispute. The union wants guarantees that production of vehicles won't be
moved to Mexico or Asia. It wants assurances that specific vehicle
models will be built at specific factories in the United States and that
the automaker won't outsource other jobs to nonunion operations.
Gettelfinger may land some concessions from the company by shutting it
down for a brief period, but over the long run, those guarantees will
likely result in more lost jobs, not fewer. GM, like its crosstown
rivals Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, needs flexibility in these
contracts to recover from the $16 billion they collectively lost in
North America last year.
GM has to be able to make business decisions about production and plant
locations based on what makes the most economic sense for the company.
Doing anything less puts the automaker's financial health at risk and,
by extension, the jobs of UAW members.
Ultimately, what's good for General Motors is good for the UAW. A
healthy company will create more jobs and be under less pressure to
balance its books by squeezing workers.
But to get to that point, the domestic automakers must close the
$30-an-hour gap that exists with their Asian rivals. The disparity in
costs exists in large part because the domestic automakers haven't been
willing to challenge the work rules and job guarantees of past
contracts. And they've failed to bring pension and health care costs in
line with what is offered in most other private sector jobs.
That has to change with this contract.
Although Gettelfinger bristles at the notion, a strike is a weapon of
the past that won't provide union workers with a more secure future.
He should get himself back to the bargaining table with a more realistic
view of what it will take for GM to survive, and get his members back to
work before the jobs they left Monday disappear for good.