Judge sets GM arbitration
GM, UAW to face arbiter Wednesday in strike; Ontario plant halts production
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - A judge Tuesday ordered General Motors and the United Auto Workers to submit to arbitration to end a 47-day-old strike that has idled nearly 200,000 workers and cost GM more than $1.2 billion.
The ruling is a victory for GM, which claims the strikes at two parts plants in Flint, Mich. violate the company's 1996 national labor contract with the UAW.
Yet it came amid growing disarray in GM's hobbled assembly operations, as the nation's largest automaker announced the shutdown of its Oshawa, Ontario, subsidiary after its parts pipeline dried up.
The plant employs 3,500 workers. It is one of only three facilities -- out of 29 GM assembly plants in North America -- that had continued to operate even as the walkouts idled 183,500 non-striking workers at other facilities.
A "no-strike clause" in the UAW's pact with each of the Big Three automakers limits strikeable grievances to health-and-safety issues, job outsourcing and production standards.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gadola appointed arbiter Thomas Roberts to meet with representatives of the automaker and union Wednesday and Thursday in Detroit and again Friday and Saturday in Flint, where strikes by 9,200 workers began June 5 at the Flint Metals Center plant and June 11 at the Delphi East components facility.
Earlier Tuesday, a GM spokesman warned assembly at General Motors of Canada Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary based in Oshawa, would be halted late in the day, though some work would continue at the plant.
The Oshawa plant builds full-size trucks. It is also an assembly point for the GMT800, a new sports-utility vehicle crammed with spiffy features that GM was counting on to generate handsome profits. Though GM is said to have built as many as 1,000 models of the GMT800, that number is not enough to support the launch, which may be scuttled by the shutdown.
Greg Gibson, a spokesman for GM of Canada Ltd., told Reuters the Oshawa plant had run out of parts to build its new line of Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras due to the strikes.
Gibson said, however, that paint, body and material shop workers were still expected to report for the evening shift.
More than 12,200 GM Canada workers, of nearly 30,000 employed in the country by GM last year, have been idled by the strikes across the border.
Just two assembly plants left?
The sidelining of the Candian facility leaves two assembly plants in operation -- GM's Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and another one in Mexico. The Saturn plant's workers voted Sunday to authorize a strike should the UAW decide on such a step, which now appears increasingly likely as both sides raise the stakes in the standoff.
UAW official Michael Bennett told USA Today that GM has a month to decide the future of their partnership or Saturn's union members will scrap their contract and return to the master union agreement with GM.
The shutdowns have paralyzed GM's vast production networks at a time of year when it is normally revving up assembly lines for next-year models.
Exacerbating the impasse, union executives said Monday evening the labor disputes against GM could last late into September.
Richard Shoemaker, the UAW vice president in charge of dealings with GM, said the strikes in Flint could last into September, a downgraded prognosis after his recent statements projecting a settlement by mid-August.
Save for its two-week summer shutdown, which ended just over a week ago, GM has been losing an estimated $400 million a week.
The union, on a broad level, accuses GM of reneging on investments at the Flint metal-stamping plant and of seeking to export U.S. jobs. GM retorts the union has failed to change its work rules to become more flexible and productive, as the UAW promised to do as a condition of the investment.
Roberts will rule on GM's complaint to the court that the issues the UAW says it is striking over -- job outsourcing and security -- are issues that the 1996 contract says must be resolved by the grievance procedure or arbitration process.
Gadola said he will enforce Roberts' ruling.
The union contended the court has no jurisdiction in the case. UAW Attorney Michael Nicholson accused the judge of taking sides in the dispute.
"I'm not taking sides on this," Gadola responded. "I'm only instructing you to talk," and not ruling himself on the issues under discussion.
GM (GM) shares closed up 7/16 at 69-9/16 in trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
-- from staff and wire reports