Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Longstanding Distrust Keeps Racking Up Strike Costs for GM

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Longstanding Distrust Keeps Racking Up Strike Costs for GM

Article excerpt

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors is paying dearly for a longstanding culture of distrust between company managers and leaders of the United Auto Workers union.

Two UAW strikes -- the latest of 13 walkouts since 1996 -- have GM's North American production at a virtual standstill and nearly 172,000 workers idled. The cost of lost production: $1.18 billion and growing.

Talks continued Wednesday at two parts plants in Flint with no sign a settlement was near. Some analysts expect the strikes to continue into August or September. Once a deal is reached, the UAW may strike again elsewhere if GM fails to resolve several local contract disputes.

Labor experts and industry observers say that for GM to reach its goal of becoming leaner and more globally competitive, it needs to make fundamental changes to the way it deals with the UAW -- soon.

Labor relations at GM differ greatly from those at Ford and Chrysler. Ford has not had a strike in 12 years; walkouts at Chrysler are infrequent, short and marked by minimal public rancor.

Issues that would create major problems for GM barely cause a ripple at Ford. When Ford last year closed its Ohio plant that assembled the slow-selling Thunderbird, idling 2,500 workers, the UAW did not object. Instead, the two sides reached a deal in advance that provided workers with a $45,000 bonus if they transferred to a Kentucky plant that makes pickups.

GM's constant labor problems stem in part from a traditional us- versus-them management style, said Marick Masters, a business professor at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Unions at the Crossroads.

"It's one characterized by arrogance," Masters said Wednesday. "General Motors and the UAW have never had a dialogue. Consequently, there's a great deal of miscommunication, a great deal of mistrust and a great deal of uncertainty as to how to react. …

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