UAW-GM negotiations continue Sunday as deadline looms

Michael Martinez and Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Negotiations between General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers continued Sunday afternoon as the two sides worked to hammer out a new labor contract before a union-imposed 11:59 p.m. strike deadline.

The union on Saturday terminated a previously agreed upon indefinite contract extension, setting up the midnight deadline. But sources close to the situation said progress was being made between the two sides.

“It seems like the UAW is amping up the pressure by announcing the expiration of the contract extension,” said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Labor and Industry Group for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. “Neither party wants to strike – it hurts both sides.”

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.

By Sunday the union had posted on social media guidelines for workers in the event of a strike and information on how to receive strike benefits.

The deadline came two days after the union selected GM as its next target for negotiations. GM in a statement Saturday said it is working with the union “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.

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.”

(313) 222-2401