UAW, GM tighten screws
Union plots strike strategy as Texas denies idled workers unemployment
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The war of words between General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers Union kicked into high gear Monday, with union leaders vowing to remain on strike through Christmas unless GM starts treating its workers with "dignity and honesty".
At a union rally in Flint, Mich., UAW President Stephen Yokich called the strikes "an all-out war''.
"GM, I'm tired of the nonsense,'' he shouted. "Get your butts back to the bargaining table where you belong."
"We know what we're fighting for, we know we're fighting for dignity and honesty at the bargaining table and that's what we'll get or we'll still be here come Christmas," Yokich thundered.
Walkout began in June
Members of UAW Local 659 struck first at the Flint Metal Center, a stamping plant, on June 5. Workers from UAW Local 651 started their walkout on June 11 at Delphi East, which makes spark plugs, filters and other components.
The strikes quickly forced GM to shut down the bulk of its North American manufacturing operation, a move that has already cost the automaker more than $1.2 billion and is costing an additional $80 million a day in lost profits.
Company officials said they would begin running an ad campaign to counter the belief there are no GM cars to buy. The automaker said there are at least 600,000 GM vehicles still for sale on lots across the country.
GM and the UAW are scheduled to go before an arbitrator on Wednesday over whether the Flint strikes are illegal. GM contends the union is striking over "non strikeable" issues under the GM-UAW national agreement.
GM says the UAW is striking over production allocations and capital investments, both disputes which only can be settled through arbitration.
Et tu Saturn?
The rally came one day after UAW members in Spring Hill, Tenn., voted to authorize what would be the first strike at GM's Saturn Corp. subsidiary since it was created more than a decade ago to serve as a model of cooperation between the company and its union work force.
Michael Bennett, UAW manufacturing adviser for UAW Local 1853, which represents the Saturn plant's 7,300 hourly workers, said GM has stopped consulting the union about major decisions.
Bennett said the automaker is looking at contracting out work to independent suppliers for a new Saturn sport utility vehicle due in 2001 or 2002 and that could mean as many as 3,500 jobs would be lost.
Harley Shaiken, a labor-relations professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said the specter of a strike at Saturn, long admired as a model of labor-management cooperation, just proves how bad things have gotten.
"If you have a strategy that provokes a strike at Saturn, what can you expect at Oklahoma City and Flint?'' he said.
Pressure has been growing on GM to settle the strike or risk losing more and more customers to rival car companies.
But pressure has also been building on UAW leaders as the walkout stretches into its second month and thousands of idled GM workers begin to feel the financial pinch.
Texas denies benefits
On Monday, Texas said it would deny unemployment benefits, to more than 1,000 GM workers who were idled at the company's Arlington assembly plant.
The Texas Workforce Commission based its preliminary ruling on a 1955 law that said the idled workers were ineligible for benefits because they had "financed" the Michigan strikes through their union dues.
GM is trying to persuade officials in other states to adopt a similar policy. Unlike striking workers, which are paid only $150 a week by the UAW, workers from other plants that are idled as a result of the strike can file for state unemployment benefits. While the benefits vary from state to state, the amount is considerably more than the weekly strike benefits.
At Monday's rally, UAW leaders tried to present a solid front to GM.
"Your problems in Flint, Mich., are our problems in Mississippi," said Brown Miller, an idled UAW shop chairman from a Delphi parts plant in Laurel, Miss.
A plant in Canada that is launching production of GM's all-important, full-size pickup truck is expected to run out of parts later this week, and the only Mexican plant still operating is running at just 20 percent of capacity.
GM stock (GM) closed down 3/4 at 69-1/8 on Monday.
-- from staff and wire reports