A strike against automakers is unlikely UAW can't afford to strike Big Three

August 24, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The United Auto Workers union's decision this week to break with tradition and not pick a strike target should not be interpreted as a sign that it might strike all three automakers, union and industry officials said yesterday.

A strike against the Big Three -- General Motors Corp. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. -- is virtually unthinkable, industry leaders said yesterday. Such a massive undertaking would dry up the union's finances, preventing it from squeezing any of the so-called Big Three automakers to make concessions for a new contract.

"If you're going to strike, you have got to have the financial resources. This is your main weapon. You need to have the resources for a strike to last long enough that you have a credible threat of hurting the companies," said Michael Flynn, associate director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. "If you are going to fight them, you need the weapons to hurt them enough to gain concessions from the companies."

Flynn said that by taking on all three at once, the UAW would not have the power to be effective. "And," he said, "the automakers would know it. They would know that the union couldn't hold out long enough to hurt them."

David Healy, an auto analyst with Burnham Securities, estimated that the union has about $600 million in its strike fund. "A strike against GM, Ford and Chrysler would eat that up too quickly to be effective," he said.

Charles R. Alfred, president of UAW Local 239, which represents the 3,100 hourly workers at GM's van assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore, said a strike against all three would not be economically feasible.

"It would absolutely wipe us out, financially," Alfred said. "We would be fighting with hungry bellies against corporations with plenty of money to feed their bellies. So it really wouldn't be a good strategy."

Paying $150-a-week strike benefits to its nearly 400,000 members would cost the union about $60 million a week.

Flynn, the University of Michigan official, said the union "would be shooting itself in its foot" by taking on all three automakers at once.

He said such a move would would leave the car market to the foreign manufacturers.

Pub Date: 8/24/96

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