Even as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne pushes for merger talks with rival General Motors, the two companies are on different paths when it comes to negotiations with the United Auto Workers.
GM has carefully orchestrated a series of announcements of new investments in plants in places such as: Pontiac, Lansing and Grand Rapids, Michigan, plus Arlington, Texas, and Kansas City, Kansas, in recent weeks.
In each case, the announcement, which have involved several GM executives, including GM CEO Mary Barra, have underscored the company’s commitment to preserving and even adding jobs at plants in the U.S., covered by the automaker’s labor contract with the United Auto Workers.
The strategy remains firmly in place despite the departure of Rex Blackwell, GM’s vice president of labor relations. Blackwell has been replaced by Cathy Clegg, vice president, GM North America Manufacturing and Labor Relations. She will lead 2015 UAW-GM contract negotiations in addition to her role in manufacturing. Clegg’s been part of the negotiation team in the past and the choice seems to be a sign that GM is trying to set a tone of cooperation and engagement.
“Her close work with Blackwell and the UAW over the past few years enables a seamless transition,” noted Katie McBride, GM spokeswoman.
Indeed, Barra stressed collegiality when asked about the outlook for upcoming negotiations with the United Auto Workers. She also refused to be drawn into a discussion about the specifics of contract negotiations, noting only that “both sides” were committed to solving “mutual problems.”
The UAW will have the power to strike this year for the first time since the negotiations in 2007. However, Barra used a quote from UAW President Dennis Williams, who has said a strike would represent a failure on the part of both sides, to turn aside the question about a potential work stoppage.
But while cooperation and problem solving are the “watch words” at General Motors, the situation at Chrysler appears more complex.
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Marchionne has made no secret that major goal for FCA US in the upcoming negotiations is to preserve key terms of the current contract and even extend them. More than 42% of FCA US current workforce in the U.S. is now paid the second-tier wages.
Unlike at GM, Marchionne hasn’t given the union much incentive to curb a rising tide of militant comments calling for the union to eliminate the wage gap and give top tier workers a raise.
Indeed, the abrupt departure of Alphons Iacobelli, 55, FCA US vice president of labor relations, suggests that Marchionne’s approach to the union has run into rough sledding even before the talks have gotten underway.
Iacobelli, a veteran of labor negotiations in the both the U.S. and Canada, may have related that fact to the Fiat Chrysler chieftain, who may not have liked what he heard. Marchionne is famous for abusing subordinates who fail to deliver what he wants, but in this case Iacobelli may have come to believe he was being asked to deliver the impossible.
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Glenn Shagena replaced Iacobelli as the Head of Employee Relations for North America. Most recently, Shagena served as Head of FCA Mexico Human Resources.
Shagena also as headed up one of Marchionne’s pet projects when he was Human Resources Director, Manufacturing and World Class Manufacturing (WCM) , where he was responsible for heading up labor relations efforts, including the rollout of WCM, at all of the company’s manufacturing operations.
As such, he has played a key role on the company’s negotiations teams. But the negotiations were also carried out at a time when the UAW had lost its right to strike under the terms of the federal bailout of the auto industry. As at GM, the union does have the right to strike at FCA US if contract talks bog down at the deadline in September.
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Shagena joined what was then Chrysler in 1985 in the Labor Relations department working at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. Since then, he has held a series of positions with increasing responsibilities in Employee Relations and Human Resources including Human Resources for Vehicle Engineering and, separately, Manufacturing.