Detroit automakers — including two of the three CEOs — plan to attend the International Motor Show next week in Frankfurt, Germany, even as their bargaining teams work toward an 11:59 p.m. Monday contract deadline with the UAW.
GM CEO Mary Barra, President Dan Ammann and Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, will attend the Frankfurt show, as will Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne. Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president and president, Europe Middle East and Africa, is scheduled to be Ford Motor Co.’s top-ranking executive at the show.
Contract talks between the automakers and UAW are expected to heat up over the weekend and Monday, as the contract deadline ticks closer. Negotiating teams for the carmakers, not the CEOs, typically are the ones at the table; CEOs are frequently updated and can weigh in with a phone call if needed. The negotiating teams have been working for months with union negotiators.
Little news on progress or stumbling blocks has been leaked from the ongoing negotiations. UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, who represents Ford Motor Co. workers, said in a video released Friday that he is “very determined” to get a wage increase this year for his members. “They’re (Ford) making plenty of money,” Settles says in the video that was taped Tuesday.
“We haven’t had a raise in 10 years,” he continued. “And I don’t think many people in America can say they have not gotten a raise in 10 years.”
Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry & Labor Group for the Center for Automotive Research, said union members should not view the CEOs going to Frankfurt at the same time their contract is up as a negative. Dziczek said the companies have strong and empowered negotiating teams, and the CEOs don’t need to be there to work on and reach an agreement.
“It’s very important for the CEOs to be the face of the company at an important show like Frankfurt,” Dziczek said.
Other labor experts such as John Beck, associate professor of Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, said the companies and CEOs give authority to their lead bargainers to make deals at the table; if something drastic were to change, they could even participate by Skype, he said.
“I think it’s dangerous to read much into” the CEOs’ travel as talks near — and possibly pass — the deadline, Beck said.
In negotiations four years ago, Marchionne flew from the Frankfurt show to Auburn Hills to lock in a deal the day before the contract expired. He postponed a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to meet with former UAW President Bob King. But the UAW president was locked in negotiations with GM, and Marchionne’s calls to King’s cellphone went unanswered.
So Marchionne dashed off a letter to King, saying, “I know that we are the smallest of the three automakers here in Detroit, but that does not make us less relevant. Our people are no less relevant.” Chrysler-UAW talks were derailed, and an agreement didn’t come until nearly a month later.
This time around, as is customary, hourly workers at all three companies already have green-lighted their leaders to call a strike, if that becomes necessary. What’s more likely, however, is a contract extension if the UAW and the automakers are reasonably close to an agreement or believe one can be reached soon. This is the first contract that a strike is permitted at GM and Fiat Chrysler, under terms of their government bailout.
Key issues in this year’s talks include pay raises, health care costs and the two-tier work system for the 141,000 workers covered by the contracts.
The Frankfurt show’s important press days, when automakers show their products to the automotive press in advance of the public show, are Tuesday and Wednesday. Barra is slated to be at the show Tuesday and Marchionne on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The automakers have a lot riding on the recovering European economy. Europe has been a troublesome market for the U.S. carmakers.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder also is slated to attend the Frankfurt show. He plans to meet with executives from automotive supply chain firms and European auto parts suppliers, and try to woo their North American business to Michigan.
Detroit in Frankfurt
What GM, Fiat Chrysler and Ford are concentrating on this week:
■GM will focus on its compact Opel Astra, its second-best selling vehicle in Europe, and the company’s goal to return to profitability next year in Europe. Barra is slated to help present the Astra hatchback and Astra Sports Tourer station wagon Tuesday.
■Ford, which also is working to narrow losses in Europe, will debut the European version of the Edge. The automaker plans to launch five new or redesigned SUVs and crossovers in Europe over the next three years.
■Fiat Chrysler is expected to show the Alfa Romeo Giulia midsize sedan, which was privately unveiled in June in Italy, as well as the Ferrari 488 Spider. The Giulia is the first of eight new Alfas expected by 2018.