General Motors' inability to adapt to new labor relations and public
concern over U.S. jobs being exported are contributing to the automaker's
labor woes, a University of Tennessee law professor said recently.
Patrick Hardin said auto industry labor relations have changed from "back
scratching relationships" of the past and are still evolving, but GM has
not kept pace.
"In the 1970s and early '80s, the market was stable with no real
competition," said Hardin. "Unions and companies had a deal to split the
pie. The occasional strike concerned 20 cents more in hourly pay and costs
were just passed on to the consumer.
"Those days are gone in the auto industry. Today, each of the Big Three is
finding a new path, a new relationship with the union. Ford has done the
best job and has the most solid labor relations. General Motors has not yet
found the path."
Workers at GM's Saturn plant in Spring Hill--GM's only U.S. plant still
turning out cars--voted this summer to authorize a strike.
GM has lost more than $1.2 billion since workers at two parts plants in
Flint, Mich., walked off the job in June. More than 100 of GM's U.S. plants
are affected and 186,000 workers idled.
"The strike in Flint, Mich., shows that there is a lot of trouble in GM
labor-management relationships," said Hardin. "I am fearful that a strike
at Saturn may be just as difficult to end as the one in Flint."
Hardin said public fear that U.S. auto jobs could be shipped overseas is
helping the UAW "win the public relations war," even though GM has
announced no plans to export jobs, and many foreign companies are building
plants here because of quality U.S. labor.
"The union seems to have persuaded the public that the strike in Flint is
not about outdated pay scales--which is actually one of the issues--but
about preventing jobs from going offshore," Hardin said.
"Most Americans believe they are striking to keep the company from moving
jobs to non-union contractors or to plants in foreign countries. The union
is fearful of that but I have seen no announcement in which GM plans to do
Unsympathetic GM causes labor woes
Published: Sat Aug 22, 1998 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 01:34 p.m.