GM-UAW Strike Talks Continue
FLINT, Mich. (AP) _ Talks at two strikebound General Motors plants resumed today after going into the evening again yesterday. After meeting at a hotel, UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker and the GM vice president of personnel, Gerald Knechtel, held separate nees conferences and agreed that progress had been made. But each warned that many significant issues remained unresolved.
Knechtel said it’s critical that negotiators settle the strikes at two key parts plants by this weekend. Shoemaker said he doubts that will happen.
``We’re trying to establish a sense of urgency on both sides,″ said Knechtel. ``General Motors and the UAW have probably 180,000 people out of work. So it has a severe consequence on all of our people. We have a real need to get this done.″
Shoemaker said he would be ``absolutely amazed″ if a settlement were reached in the next few days.
``Then I’m going to try to amaze him,″ Knechtel replied.
``The pace is painstakingly slow,″ Shoemaker said. ``There remains an awful lot of issues to be resolved.″
``There’s a long way to go,″ Knechtel said, ``but it’s doable.″
Knechtel confirmed that GM was pushing for a settlement before week’s end so it could be ratified and the two strikebound parts plants reopened by Monday. GM is under its annual two-week summer vacation shutdown; when that break ends Monday, strike-related production losses begin accruing again.
The strikes by 9,200 workers have been the costliest for the world’s No. 1 automaker since a 67-day walkout in 1970. GM’s strike-related losses through June totaled $1.18 billion; 26 North American assembly plants have been idled by the walkouts.
Shoemaker insisted the UAW wasn’t operating under any ``artificial″ deadline. And he said there was ``no way possible″ to have a ratification vote Saturday or Sunday.
Even if the Flint plants reopened Monday, it would still take several days before parts could start arriving at the first of strike-idled assembly plants.
Knechtel and Shoemaker acknowledged for the first time that GM wants a comprehensive deal that would settle disputes at its parts plants in Dayton, Ohio, and Indianapolis as well as the Flint strikes.
``We’re trying to get them all done,″ Knechtel said, noting that separate talks were being held simultaneously in Ohio and Indiana.
But Shoemaker said a comprehensive deal was unlikely because of the complexity of the issues at the Dayton and Indianapolis plants.
Shoemaker said two weeks ago that strikes at Dayton and Indianapolis were possible after the Flint strikes were settled. The issues are similar to those at Flint: fear of job losses through contracting to outside suppliers, health and safety concerns, work rules.
But he said a gaining a larger settlement likely would prolong the Flint strikes, which would not be in anyone’s interest. ``It just makes no sense.″
Shoemaker dismissed reports that the discussions had expanded beyond disagreements at the Flint plants to broader national issues that have divided GM and its largest union. He said GM should not expect to resolve such issues in these local talks.
As to expectations on Wall Street that the settlement must give GM significant changes to improve its competitiveness or else its strategy of fighting the strike will be considered a failure, Shoemaker said: ``I recognize they’ve got themselves in a box, but they did that.″
Shoemaker also said the talks had not gotten into the future of GM’s Delphi parts unit. The automaker has been grooming Delphi for a possible initial public stock offering of up to 20 percent of the subsidiary.
Delphi was raised as an issue again this week when it was announced that two parts plants that GM sold to a group of investors in 1996 would be closed. The UAW is fighting the closures, which it says would violate the UAW-GM contract that remained in effect at the plants after they were sold.
``We’re going to do all we can to protect the sanctity of those agreements,″ Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker also disputed a comment by a regional UAW official earlier Thursday that negotiators had agreed on a ``framework″ for a settlement at Flint. Talks had no progressed that far, he said.
``We’re going to work hard to try to find an end to this as quickly as possible,″ he said. ``I wish I could say I knew when that was going to be. I don’t.″