GM, UAW feud over work rules
General Motors Corp.'s push to implement money-saving rule changes at
its factories has the automaker at loggerheads with the United Auto
Workers union, with two plants now at risk of losing future work.
GM has halted preparations under way at plants in Kansas City, Kan., and
Lordstown, Ohio, to get the facilities ready for new vehicles. The
stoppage came after the UAW ordered its local negotiating teams to stop
bargaining with the company on work rules designed to make the factories
The conflict is the first time the union and the automaker have openly
butted heads over rule changes GM has been pushing for months at its
plants as it struggles to cut billions of dollars in costs.
"The management and union leadership at both Lordstown and Fairfax are
in discussions about improving the competitiveness of both plants and
putting both plants in a better position to secure future products," GM
spokesman Dan Flores said.
Flores said the company doesn't comment on future products or labor
UAW Spokesman Roger Kerson couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Union officials at the Lordstown complex have been working to secure
production of the next generation Chevrolet Cobalt small car.
The plant has been under intense pressure to cut costs as GM struggles
to eke out a profit on small cars produced in North America.
Meanwhile, GM's Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City hopes to produce
the next vehicle to be built on the architecture of the Chevrolet Malibu
sedan. The plant is producing the 2008 made-over Malibu, set to hit
showrooms later this year.
Current work on the Cobalt and Malibu isn't affected, Flores said.
Word of the skirmish spread after the UAW Local 1112 at Lordstown posted
a flier informing workers that GM has "suspended two new vehicle
programs for North America."
"The International Union has contacted your Shop Chairman and requested
that he along with the Shop Committee suspend all meetings immediately,"
according to the flier.
Thinning the gap
In recent months, GM leaders have been visiting plants to push for
changes that range from getting workers to take on more jobs to
outsourcing work not directly related to building vehicles, such as
GM's goal is to make its plants fully competitive with those of its
Japanese rivals in the United States.
GM loses $1,300 on average for each vehicle it makes in North America,
while Toyota Motor Corp. makes about $2,100 on each car and truck it
builds here, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.
While more flexible factory rules won't eliminate that gap, GM says they
could save hundreds of dollars per vehicle.
National talks lie ahead
The conflict comes before the UAW and Detroit's automakers are set to
begin negotiating in earnest this summer. The goal is to secure a new
labor agreement when the current four-year pact expires in September.
"The union wants to see a more competitive GM, and it's made some tough
choices," said Harley Shaiken, labor professor at the University of
California, Berkeley. "But it's not willing to abandon what it's built
up over so many decades."
Shaiken said trouble at the local level doesn't necessarily bode badly
for the national talks. If the union and GM are able to work out tough
issues early on in local contracts, bargaining could go more smoothly at
the national level, he said.
"This will make the national talks less contentious, not more," Shaiken
said. "It's not a preview necessarily, but rather a drawing of the line."