UAW strike deadline looms for GM
The United Auto Workers on Saturday set an 11:59 p.m. Sunday strike deadline for contract negotiations with General Motors Co.
The roughly 36-hour notice is similar to what occurred during negotiations with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV earlier this month that culminated with the union and automaker agreeing on a tentative agreement just before an 11:59 p.m. deadline on Oct 7.
A strike deadline is typically a way to turn up the heat on negotiators to reach a deal. There were no signs from the company or union that talks had broken down.
A message from UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada to GM North America Manufacturing and Labor Relations Vice President Cathy Clegg formally issued the strike deadline by giving notice of terminating a previously agreed upon indefinite contract extension from Sept. 14. The deadline comes two days after the union selected GM as its next target for negotiations.
GM confirmed that it received the deadline from the UAW in a statement: “GM confirms that we have received a negotiations deadline from the UAW. We are working with them to address the issues and remain committed to obtaining an agreement that is good for employees and the business.”
If a deal is not reached by the deadline, it does not mean the union will strike. The two sides could decide to keep talking, move the deadline or a combination of options that include moving the bargaining focus to Ford Motor Co. But backing off from the deadline without an agreement could be seen as a weak move by some rank-and-file workers.
A national strike involving all 52,700 members with the automaker is the most drastic option the union could take. It also could call targeted strikes at select GM plants. Both types of strikes have occurred against GM in the past 20 years.
The last time the union called a strike against GM was in 2007. Production at more than 80 facilities in the U.S., idling more than 70,000 workers for two days. The strike cost GM more than $300 million a day, according to Buckingham Research Group.
The last major strike against a U.S. automaker came 17 years ago when the UAW struck two key GM plants in 1998 — Flint Metal Center and Delphi Flint East. That strike lasted 54 days, costing GM an estimated $2 billion and forcing it to idle nearly 180,000 employees and close 26 of 29 North American assembly plants; the strike also idled about 100 auto supplier plants.
Striking is historically painful to both sides: While the company can’t afford to have product lines down for too long, the union also is hampered by paying strike benefits for a lengthy walkout. The UAW’s strike fund has about $600 million in it, down from $1 billion in 2006.
This is the first year since 2007 that union members at GM and Fiat Chrysler were capable of striking. The UAW gave up the right to strike for the 2011 talks as a condition of the government bailouts of Chrysler and GM.
Kristin Dziczek, director of the Labor and Industry Group for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, has said a strike is the “ultimate weapon the union has.”
UAW President Dennis Williams previously has said that a strike would be a bargaining failure. The union president told The Detroit News in mid-August that deciding to strike would be a “tough call.”