Monday, March 29, 1999

UAW: Trouble with GM persists

Union leader hints at showdown

The Associated Press

        DETROIT — Despite months of labor peace since last summer's devastating strikes, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Stephen Yokich said Sunday that problems persist with General Motors Corp. and hinted at another showdown when national contract talks begin later this year.

        In a speech kicking off the union's triennial bargaining convention, Mr. Yokich said job security would again be the UAW's priority when it begins contract talks in June with GM, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler AG. The national contracts cover about 396,000 U.S. workers.

        Mr. Yokich reserved his toughest criticism for GM, suggesting to about 2,000 union delegates that little if anything had improved in UAW-GM relations since last year's costly battle.

        The strikes at two parts plants in Flint brought the world's largest automaker to a virtual halt in North America. They lasted several weeks and cost the company about $2 billion while they idled nearly 200,000 GM workers and thousands of employees at independent suppliers.

        Since the strikes, GM has announced plans to convert its aging U.S. small-car plants to so-called “modular” assembly to make them more efficient. The UAW describes it as a threat to union jobs.

        Under modular assembly, outside suppliers preassemble parts such as an entire dashboard and deliver them to a plant, where they are installed on the chassis. Far fewer UAW workers would be needed to assemble each car, significantly reducing manufacturing costs.

        “There's nothing new about modular assembly,” Mr. Yokich said. “It's just another word for ... outsourcing.”

        Mr. Yokich also bristled at suggestions that GM loses money on its small cars because of its labor costs.

        “They claim they lose $1,000 on every small car they build themselves. It's funny, their competitors — Ford and Chrysler — never lose anything on their small cars. So is it our fault or their fault in how they run their plants? It certainly isn't our fault.”

        GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said the company would have no comment on Mr. Yokich's remarks.


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- UAW: Trouble with GM persists