Reporting Jeff Gilbert
DETROIT (WWJ) - General Motors and the UAW opening contract talks today with a vow that they will be able to work through differences, and get a deal that rewards workers, while keeping the company competitive.
“We have a sacred obligation, all of us, to deliver on the promise and the helping hand that the American public extended to this company in its hour of need,” said GM CEO Dan Akerson, in a ceremony at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramk plant.
They chose the plant, negotiators say, because it symbolizes the new relationship between GM and the union. It’s currently the home of the Chevrolet Volt, and will soon go to three shifts and add about two thousand workers.
Normally negotiations get underway in a conference room, with the two sides shaking hands over a table. The union began its talks with Chrysler on Monday, in an informal setting at the company’s headquarters.
The UAW is expected to choose a unique setting on Friday, when it starts talks with Ford.
Because of deals made before the 2009 bankruptcies, the UAW can not strike Chrysler and GM this time around. But UAW Vice President Joe Ashton says strikes and arbitration are the furthest thing from their minds. They want a negotiated settlement.
“We’re gonna get a contract here, and we’re gonna make it work, because the country’s looking at us,” he said.
The union’s negotiations with the domestic car companies, will not stop its efforts to organize the “transplants’, foreign owned companies with plants mostly in the southern states.
“We’re gonna organize the transplant facilities in America, because we’re going to level the competitive playing field for our membership and General Motors,” said UAW President Bob King.
King said a fair contract with GM and the other domestics would send a message to foreign auto companies that the UAW cares about their success, and would send a message to workers that the union is watching out for both workers and the companies that provide them employment.
GM’s Dan Akerson says GM is not only successful, but “wildly successful”, and will prove that next week when it posts its sixth consecutive quarterly profit.
That momentum, he says, must continue.
“The world is really quite brutal,” said Akerson. “It does not tolerate weakness in business. It does not tolerate uncompetitive cost structures.”
The message isn’t lost on UAW President Bob King, who says the biggest lesson from the restructuring of the auto industry is that workers future depends on a competitive company.
“We’re proving that labor, and management and community can all work together.”
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