Strike, day 25: GM urges UAW to get a deal done

Ian Thibodeau Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. bargainers are urging the United Auto Workers to engage in around-the-clock bargaining on all issues to get an agreement done as 46,000 GM employees head out to picket lines for the 26th day on Friday.

In a letter sent Thursday night to UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, GM Vice President of Labor Relations Scott Sandefur said the company expected a response to an offer it made Monday.

The letter said GM CEO Mary Barra had "emphasized the need to get a comprehensive response from the union as soon as possible" in a Wednesday meeting, which Barra, Dittes, GM Executive Vice President of Global Manufacturing Gerald Johnson and UAW President Gary Jones attended. The meeting was an attempt to jump-start negotiations after talks between the automaker and the union had stalled.

The response from GM was directed at a letter sent earlier in the evening by Dittes stating that the union agreed to have committees work on issues until they can submit a comprehensive proposal. Committees include the training center and the future of work.

But GM objects "to having bargaining placed on hold" until issues are resolved in those areas, Sandefur wrote. "As we have urged repeatedly, we should engage in bargaining over all issues around-the-clock to get an agreement. Your members and our employees' lives are being disrupted, and they deserve our commitment to getting any remaining issues resolved as quickly as possible."

Both letters were obtained by The Detroit News.

Experts say it's unusual for the union to take as much time as it has to respond to the company's offer.

"That’s unusual when you are out on strike," said Art Schwartz, president of Labor and Economics Associates in Ann Arbor, and the former general director of labor relations at GM. "I would think you would want to speed the process up, not slow it down."

Colin Lightbody, a former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV labor negotiator and president of HR and Labor Guru Inc., wrote on his blog that at this stage of negotiations "one would expect that if the parties were closing in on a deal, that offers and counter-offers would be traded every few hours not every few days. This is not a great sign but I am remaining positive because at least the two parties are still talking."

Yolanda Jacobs walks the picket line at the General Motors Romulus Powertrain plant. Nearly four weeks into the United Auto Workers' strike against GM, employees are starting to feel the pinch of going without their regular paychecks.

The national strike has cost millions of dollars for the automaker, GM suppliers and workers. The 46,000 striking GM-UAW members outside 55 GM facilities in 19 states are making $250 per week in strike pay.

East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group estimates that the strike has put some 150,000 auto industry workers out of work. Some of those workers are employed at parts suppliers, and others are at GM facilities not represented by the UAW.

After three weeks of the strike, the economic group anticipates the 25,000 salaried GM workers could see wages affected. Through Oct. 13, the group estimates GM has lost $1.13 billion in profits; employees have lost more than $624 million in wages; there's been $250 million lost in federal tax revenue; and the state of Michigan has lost $13.8 million in tax revenue.

GM employees have already missed two regular paychecks and will miss a third on Friday.

"I think it's fair to say that most Americans cannot afford to miss two paychecks," said Brian Peterson, director of public policy and economic analysis at Anderson Economic Group. "That's money that would have otherwise been spent at businesses in Michigan (and) in the Midwest."

Peterson noted that the group has not yet made any estimates on the indirect impact of the strike.

"What about the restaurant that depends on UAW workers coming in every day? I think that's another big component," he said. "There is a huge indirect impact."

Meanwhile, Cox Automotive says GM continues to have an ample supply of new vehicles to sell despite the four-week work stoppage. Overall, GM had an 81-day supply or cars, trucks and SUVs at the beginning of October, above the industry average of 66 days. But the flow of parts is slowing, making vehicle service more difficult and causing dealers to delay repairs.  

When it comes to dealers, Cristina Benton, director of Anderson Economic Group’s market and industry analysis practice area and a leading national expert on auto dealership franchises, said the majority "are not yet feeling a pinch in their sales, having maintained reasonable inventory levels."

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