No one has to tell Bob Harlow about bad times in the auto
The president of United Auto Workers Local 1776 at General
plant in Willow Run, Mich., can remember the recession of the
early 1980s when the out-of-work and out-of-money autoworker was a
symbol for those tough times.
Harlow _ a UAW member since 1965 _ and the 3,600 members of his
union local are witnessing more of the same auto industry troubles
After months of running the Willow Run plant on one shift,
alternating biweekly between day and night crews, GM in March laid
off the entire second shift _ 1,124 workers.
But unlike 1981-82, no cry for help is heard from workers as
unemployment compensation and company benefits wane.
A year ago, the UAW and GM negotiated a three-year agreement
that guarantees workers' incomes after 36 weeks of being laid off _
a provision that has already come to the aid of about 1,000 workers
at Willow Run.
Rather than wondering where their next paycheck will come from,
those 1,000 workers are either working in a GM Job Opportunity Bank
Security program or have taken a voluntary layoff and are receiving
85 percent of their take- home pay for staying at home.
"It would have been a damn mess around here," Harlow said. "We
would have over half our plant on layoff and they would have
exhausted their unemployment benefits and the SUB fund (a GM-paid
Supplemental Unemployment Benefit) would have been almost gone."
The new contract provision _ hailed as a milestone for the UAW
_ has done for thousands of GM, Ford and Chrysler workers
nationwide what it has done for those in Willow Run.
The Big Three automakers had thought last September and October
when they were agreeing to contracts that the industry was on an
upswing _ on its way to a recovery that would be led by a bevy of
beautiful new cars.
But the turnaround has been slow in coming and the automakers
find themselves bleeding red ink once again, while laying off
thousands of workers and closing plants across the nation.
The Big Three have run up $5 billion in losses in the first
nine months of the year and are expected to make 1991 their worst
year since 1980, when they combined to lose $4.5 billion.
The Chevrolet Caprice _ which was to figure even more
prominently in Willow Run's future than it was at GM's plant in
Arlington, Texas _ has been slow to sell and has strong competition
in the new Crown Victoria from Ford.
The Willow Run plant also builds three GM station wagons, but
those have proved less popular than the Caprice, which has done
well with police and other fleet buyers but has not caught on with
the general public.
GM most recently announced that it would close plants in Van
Nuys, Calif., and Scarborough, Ontario, putting almost 6,000 out of
work, although their income remains protected after 36 weeks of
layoff under the GM-UAW agreement.
"It's been a tough year," said UAW President Owen Bieber. "The
economy has been down in general and, of course, the cumulative
effects of the aggressive trade practices of the Japanese keep
getting worse and worse.
"That said, I'm happy about how the job security provisions of
our 1990 Big Three agreements are working out. They're doing
exactly what they were designed to do as far as providing stability
to our members and their families and support for the economy of
the communities in which we work.
"In fact, given what's happened, I shudder to think how much
worse the situation might be without these agreements in place."
John Maciarz, the spokesman for GM's labor relations staff,
said that when the company signed the agreement last year it
committed $3.35 billion to income security for GM workers.
Today about one-third of the fund has been emptied, and Wall
Street auto analysts are saying the agreement has proved a costly
one for GM. …