Labor unrest troubles California auto plant

June 30, 1991|By Michelle Levander | Michelle Levander,Knight-Ridder News Service

FREMONT, Calif. -- The recent takeover of the UAW local at the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont by an opposition faction signals that the plant's nationally renowned system of labor-management cooperation needs a tuneup, according to some union members and analysts.

The change of leadership at United Auto Workers Local 2244 may be felt first in continuing contract negotiations, since the rival People's Caucus now holds a majority on the bargaining committee. And the June 5 union election also will have reverberations throughout the auto industry, where NUMMI has long been seen as a successful prototype for a hybrid of Japanese and U.S. management styles.

"Until this election, NUMMI was the model that worked, in its public face in the industry," said Harley Shaiken, a professor of work and technology at the University of California, San Diego. "Now this says the problems are more significant and visible than many had said before."

Other auto industry leaders will be questioning whether there are sources of stress and dissatisfaction within the Japanese-style management system that need to be addressed, Mr. Shaiken said.

Like workers at Mazda's Flat Rock plant who voted in a dissident faction in 1989, NUMMI workers are making it clear that they want union leaders who are worker advocates rather than management-labor counselors, he said.

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