Auto Workers Strike at General Motors Despite Health Care Agreement
United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on Monday gave the signal for union members to begin their first national strike against General Motors in 37 years over issues of job security, not health care costs, the Detroit News reports.
Negotiators have come to an "apparent deal" on the creation of a voluntary employees' beneficiary association that would shift more than $50 billion in retiree health care obligations to the union, according to the News (Vlasic/Terlep, Detroit News, 9/25).
Ford Motor and GM in August formally asked UAW to assume responsibility for the health care benefits of more than 1.5 million working and retired employees. The companies would transfer retiree health care obligations to an independent trust fund that the union would manage (California Healthline, 8/24).
Earlier this month, UAW selected GM, which has been the strongest proponent among the automakers of creating a VEBA, as its lead negotiation partner.
A key dispute in the VEBA negotiations had been a gap of billions of dollars between the automaker's proposed funding level and the union's desired amount (American Health Line, 9/24).
According to the Wall Street Journal, the strike resulted from disagreement on one key issue: whether UAW, "having made big concessions on health care, should get some kind of jobs guarantee from GM" (Stoll/McCracken, Wall Street Journal, 9/25).
Gettelfinger said, "This strike is not about the VEBA in any way, shape or form," adding, "We were more than eager to discuss it." Gettelfinger said that no official agreement has been reached on a VEBA (Krisher/Durbin, AP/Hartford Courant, 9/25).
People familiar with the negotiations have said that a general framework to create a VEBA has been reached. Outside financial experts early last week were brought in to the negotiations to review the VEBA while the topic was set aside in lieu of discussions about other issues.
The negotiators on Friday returned to VEBA talks and "supposedly made progress," according to the Detroit Free Press (Higgins/Gopwani, Detroit Free Press, 9/25).
For UAW, creating a VEBA is an "enormous and historic concession," the Journal reports.
UAW leaders say creating a VEBA should be the main concession they make. However, GM maintains that creating a VEBA would only close about half of the gap in labor costs between the company and its foreign rivals.
One auto executive involved in the negotiations in June said that the gap "has to be gone by the end of the contract or doing business in the [U.S.] is unsustainable" (Wall Street Journal, 9/25).
The talks ended at about 8 p.m. on Monday and were expected to begin again on Tuesday (Detroit News, 9/25).
Several broadcast programs reported on the strike. Summaries appear below.
- American Public Media's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Greg Gardener, an analyst at Harbour Consulting, and Bob Schultz, an analyst at Standard and Poor's (Roth, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 9/24). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- ABC News: The segment includes comments from a striking UAW member (Hubbard, ABC News, ABC.com, 9/25). Video of the segment is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from striking UAW members, Gettelfinger and Michael Robinette, an auto analyst for CSM Worldwide (Lebeau, "Nightly News," NBC, 9/24). Video of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from striking UAW members and a GM spokesperson (Langfitt, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/24). Audio of the segment is available online. The program on Monday also included a discussion with auto industry analyst David Healy (Siegel, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/24). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Day to Day": The segment includes a discussion with NPR correspondent Celeste Headlee, who is covering the strike (Brand , "Day to Day," NPR, 9/24). Audio of the segment is available online. The program on Monday also included a discussion with Joseph DeMatio, an editor for Automobile Magazine (Brand , "Day to Day," NPR, 9/24). Audio of the segment is available online. In addition, Monday's program included a discussion with Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst for Global Insight (Brand , "Day to Day," NPR, 9/24). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Harley Shaiken, a labor issues specialist at UC-Berkeley; Dave Cole, chair of the Center for Automotive Research; and a UAW member (Langfitt, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/25). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report": The segment includes comments from Gettelfinger; John Casesa, an auto analyst for the Casesa Shapiro Group; and Cary Leahey, an economist for Decision Economics (Gurvey, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 9/ 24). A transcript of the segment is available online.