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," Hardin said. "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 Sunday to authorize a strike possibly by the end of

the week.

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," Hardin said. "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not about outdated pay scales-which is actually one of the issues-but about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

that."