UAW agrees to arbitration
Strikers, GM to let arbitrator determine legality of 41-day walkout
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers agreed Wednesday to allow an arbitrator to decide whether the union's 41-day walkout is legal.
The agreement was reached during a hearing before a federal judge in which GM was asking for arbitration to be ordered on the issue.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gadola told both sides to return to court on Tuesday to report on when an arbitration hearing would be held.
GM and the UAW will meet starting Thursday to discuss when arbitration could begin. GM lawyer Frank Jaworski said it could start as soon as next week.
The agreement came as a surprise after GM lawyers made an 18-minute-long presentation to Judge Gadol arguing why the order should be issued.
The UAW lawyer then responded with a 10-minute-long presentation in which he said the union would volunteer to arbitration on the legality issue.
GM maintains the strikes at the Flint Metals Center and the Delphi East Complex violate the "no strike clause" of the 1996 General Motors - UAW national agreement.
The strikes, which began on June 5 and June 11, forced the closing of 25 assembly plants and over 100 parts plants in North America. Over 178,000 GM workers are now laid off because of the closings.
GM exec returns to talks
At the same time, negotiators for General Motors Corp. and the UAW resumed high-level, face-to-face talks in Flint, Mich., in a renewed bid to settle the costly 41-day strike.
A GM spokesman said Gerald Knechtel, the GM vice president in charge of labor negotiations, returned to the bargaining table to resume talks with his UAW counterpart Richard Shoemaker. It was the first time both officials met face-to-face since Sunday when talks broke down.
The strike has cost the automaker more than $1.2 billion and paralyzed its North American assembly operations.
Talks had continued on lower levels since the weekend breakdown, but with few signs of progress.
Saturn to strike?
On a less auspicious note, the UAW retaliated against GM Tuesday night by scheduling a strike vote for this Sunday at GM's sprawling Saturn factory in Spring Hill, Tenn.
Workers at plants in Dayton, Ohio, and Indianapolis already have voted to authorize strikes should the UAW decide on such a step.
A total of 9,200 UAW members in Flint walked off the job in two separate strikes at the Flint Metal Center, a metal fabricating plant, and the Delphi East parts plant. The Flint Metal strike began June 5, with Delphi East following June 11.
In recent weeks, GM has threatened to reach beyond union ranks in seeking outside suppliers for its parts, a step some experts call risky, given the common reluctance by union workers to handle parts furnished by non-union suppliers.
Lending credence to such concerns, UAW employees at a non-idled General Motors plant in Romulus, Mich., were said to be upset Wednesday after being ordered to put Japanese spark plugs into the engines they build.
Normally, the plugs are made at the striking Flint Delphi East parts plant. Larry Long, the shop chairman of UAW Local 163, said workers don't like using outside parts, but feel they don't have a choice.
"It's a slap in the face," he said. Workers are obligated to use whatever parts the company provides.
The plugs at Romulus are going into engines used in GM pickup trucks and sport/utility vehicles.
Having lost more than $2.8 billion from strikes over the past three years, GM is seeking guarantees against future labor unrest at other plants as part of any settlement with the two striking parts plants.
Investors so far have given their thumbs up to GM's hardened resolve to take the UAW head on. GM shares (GM) ended up ¼ at 69-7/8 Wednesday in composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.