Hopes dashed for GM-UAW pact Union cancels leadership council

November 02, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

When Charles R. Alfred left Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning on a flight to Detroit, he was hopeful -- but not overly optimistic -- that he would return with news of a tentative agreement between General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers.

There's no chance of that.

Alfred is president of UAW Local 239, which represents the 3,100 hourly workers at GM's van assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore, and by the time his flight reached its destination, he knew there would not be a settlement anytime soon.

The union had canceled today's scheduled meeting of its leadership council, which is composed of Alfred and the top executives of its other 122 union locals around the country.

Alfred was flying back home yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. It was unclear when the two sides might reach a settlement.

UAW bargainers had been pressing GM to reach an agreement by today's council meeting. The council has to approve any

settlement before union members vote.

The union said it will reschedule the meeting for Wednesday in Chicago -- if there's an agreement to present to the council.

A union official said the cancellation damped hopes that a settlement was near.

"I don't know where they go from here," said David E. Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. "I think the two sides had hoped to have this bagged up by now. There are indications they are very close, and then they drift apart again."

On a more optimistic note, Cole said he would be surprised if a settlement is not reached by the end of the weekend.

He cautioned, however, that there are still some tough issues to be resolved.

"I think GM is going to stand firm on its demand for 5 percent reduction in employment, through attrition, in each of the next three years," said Cole.

"That's a 15 percent reduction. They need that to be more competitive, and I doubt that they will opt for any settlement that doesn't contain it."

But GM may have to pay a big price to get its way. Its production of high-profit pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles has been cut sharply by selective strikes.

The automaker said 16,609 of its workers were idle because of strikes that began Tuesday at a truck assembly plant in Janesville, Wis., and a metal-stamping plant in Indianapolis. A parts shortage forced the two more GM light-truck assembly plants to close last night, idling another 2,300 workers and bringing the number of plants closed to seven.

GM is losing an estimated $5 million a day because of the strikes at the two plants.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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