GM-UAW talks show progress End could be near for Mich. strikes that have idled 189,700

No-strike pledge sought

Union reportedly wins no-sale, no-closing deal for two marginal plants

Automobiles

July 28, 1998|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

FLINT, Mich. -- General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers hope to settle two crippling strikes by agreeing in part that a Michigan parts plant and an Ohio brake plant won't close or be sold for at least 14 months, union and company officials said yesterday.

The no-sale, no-closing pledge would include GM's striking Delphi East parts plant in Flint, Mich., and another Delphi brake plant in Dayton, Ohio, under terms of an agreement being made final yesterday, officials said. It is unclear whether the pledge would be extended elsewhere.

The walkouts began June 5 at the Flint Metal Center and spread a week later to the Delphi East plant.

The Flint strikes have shut down most of GM's North American production and cost the company an estimated $2.2 billion in lost profits from canceled car and truck production.

The walkouts have idled 189,700 GM workers -- including 2,900 in the Baltimore van assembly plant -- and thousands more at GM suppliers.

Analysts said GM needs to show it made clear productivity gains and got a pledge of no more local strikes until next year for any agreement to be well-received on Wall Street.

The two sides continued marathon talks yesterday in hope of reaching an agreement as soon as today.

"They obviously are making progress," said Gerry Holmes, a spokesman for the world's largest automaker. He declined to discuss specifics on the talks or possible settlement.

Top GM and UAW negotiators were gathered in a suburban Flint hotel all day, while bargainers also met at the striking plants.

The company restarted its Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Ky., yesterday using fuel injectors from a new supplier. The parts had come from Delphi East before the strike. Union officials at the plant said they were unhappy with the start-up, and union executives have threatened a strike.

No-sale pledge

Talks yesterday focused on the wording and content of the no-sale, no-closing pledge at the two Delphi plants, union officials said.

At the Delphi East plant in Flint, GM's 5,900 worker make instrument panels, spark plugs, fuel filters and other parts. At the Delphi plant in Dayton, 3,300 workers make brakes and related components. The plants are losing money, and GM has considered selling or closing both of them.

Before the current strike, GM proposed shifting as much as half the work from the Delphi East plant to outside suppliers. As part of the settlement, the union expects to block some out-sourcing.

At the Flint Metal Center, with 3,400 workers, the two sides have agreed that that productivity would rise by 15 percent or more in the area that makes cradles, the metal pieces that anchor engines in vehicles.

In return, GM would make good on a pledge to invest $180 million in new equipment, company and union officials said.

It is unclear whether the peg-rate, or quota system, that the company blamed for much of last year's $50 million loss at the plant would remain in effect.

Talks begin Friday

Round-the-clock talks, which typically precede a settlement, began Friday, when it became clear that both sides were afraid of losing an arbitration on GM's claim that the strikes were illegal, a company official said. The arbitrator has not ruled.

The two sides were also trying to head off threatened strikes at Buick City complex in Flint and at a stamping plant in Indianapolis.

UAW officials hope to extend the sale and closing ban during national contract talks in the fall of next year. That contract could last for four years instead of the usual three, in an effort to save the factories and to promote labor peace, UAW officials said.

"In principle, four-year agreements can benefit both sides in that they provide longer-term stability and predictability," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Whether there will be such an extended contract, and what its impact might be, won't be known until the two sides are engaged in 1999 contract talks, Shaiken said. Ford Motor Co. pressed the UAW hard for a four-year pact in 1996, but the union vetoed the idea, Shaiken said.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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