Talks between the United Auto Workers and General Motors foundered late Thursday despite a meeting earlier in the week between GM Chairman Mary Barra and senior negotiators from the company and the union.
Barra had asked for the meeting, which is held in a conference room reserved for bargaining – not her office as some reported – to light a spark under the talks.
However, General Motors Vice President of North American Labor Relations Scott Sandefur, in a letter to Terry Dittes, the UAW’s top negotiator, objected to the conditions set down by the union for proceeding.
“We received a letter from you at 5:45 p.m. today without any response to our offer. Yesterday, you indicated the Union would refuse to meet or give any response to the Company’s comprehensive offer unless each of the five areas referenced in your letter were resolved on a single-issue basis. We object to having a bargaining placed on hold pending resolution of these five areas,” Sandefur said in a letter.
The procedural wrangle outlined in Sandefur’s letter is likely to take some time to untangle despite the optimistic chatter that followed the meeting of Barra, Dittes and UAW President Gary Jones as well as Sandefur and Gerald Johnson, the GM vice president of manufacturing for North America for whom the 48,000 striking union members work day to day.
Last week, GM officials also had complained that the UAW had slowed the process of moving towards agreement by insisting on bringing large numbers of participants to key meetings. The UAW sources, however, said GM could get around the problem by offering more substance and actually addressing the union concerns head on rather than complaining about the procedures involved in fashioning a final agreement.
“As we have urged repeatedly, we should engage in bargaining over all our issues around the clock to get an agreement. Your members and our employees’ lives are being disrupted, and they observe our commitment to getting any remaining issues resolved as quickly as possible,” Sandefur said in his new letter.
In the 5:45 letter mentioned by Sandefur, Dittes had said the union was prepared to press ahead with the bargaining on specific areas, which included items such as the fate of the scandal-ridden Center for Human Resources, sourcing and legal assistance, which has been a traditional football in recent rounds of negotiations.
Dittes also said in his letter once the other five issues are examined by their teams the union would reply, in full, to GM’s comprehensive counteroffer that GM put on the table Monday. In another letter earlier this week, Dittes basically rejected the GM offer because it didn’t go far enough in addressing union concerns about job security.
“The lack of commitment by GM to our UAW-GM locations has weighed heavily on all of us trying to get the best contract for you and your families. We have openly told GM that we do not see a solid commitment to this talented and skilled workforce that has made them billions of dollars in profits. We have made it clear that there is no job security for us when GM products are made in other countries for the purpose of selling them here in the U.S.A.” Dittes said in a letter to striking workers.
The UAW also has kicked back the company’s proposal on the re-use of the shuttered Lordstown plant, demanding a new product. It considers the proposal, calling for the turning over the plant to a start-up company, unsuitable.
Even with the strike in full force and potentially moving into its fifth week, the negotiations are taking place in a more public way than they have in decades.
The UAW, however, has reason for making the process more transparent. The training funds scandal has diminished the credibility of the union leadership since it first developed two years ago.
In addition, the UAW’s leadership was embarrassed in 2015 when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. rejected the first tentative contract with FCA, while skilled trades voted down their portion of the agreement only to have it imposed by the union’s executive board, while workers ratified a contract by a very narrow margin in a disputed vote.