Monday, April 30, 2007

GM, UAW feud over work rules

Friday, April 27, 2007
GM, UAW feud over work rules
Union halts bargaining; plants may lose future work
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

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 more competitive.

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 negotiations.

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 plant maintenance.

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."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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