Art Schwartz, one of the principal architects of the labor peace that cleared the way for domestic auto industry to rebuild after the Great Recession, has died due to complications from COVID-19. Schwartz, 72, one of General Motors Co.’s top labor negotiators, died over the weekend in an Ann Arbor hospital.
“I considered him a friend, although I hadn’t talked to him in a while,” said Alan Baum, an analyst from West Bloomfield, Michigan, who has studied automotive production for several years. “What a tragedy.”
While deeply analytical by nature and training, Schwartz also was described by friends and former colleagues as warm, generous and a terrific teacher.
After teaching at the University of Michigan, Schwartz joined GM in the mid-1980s when the older model for labor relations in the U.S. auto industry was breaking apart in the face of rising international competition, which dramatically reduced General Motors’ market share.
He retired as GM’s general director labor relations in 2010 after guiding the company through a series of negotiations that remade
the company’s contracts with the United Auto Workers.
The GM contracts with the UAW ultimately served as the pattern for the union’s contracts with then-Chrysler Corp. and the Ford Motor Co. The contracts helped the companies and the union move to model that has proven more sustainable as the industry began to recover its footing and even continue to operate through the current pandemic.
The contracts fashioned under Schwartz’s watch helped the industry reduce its pension and healthcare costs, while preserving many of the traditional benefits for which the union had bargained during the industry prosperous prior to oil embargos of the 1970s.
The concessions negotiated with the UAW in 2008 and 2009 also helped clear the way for Obama administration’s bailout of both GM and Chrysler and led to the creation of the healthcare trust that pays the hospital bills of auto workers who retired before and during and even after the Great Recession.
“During his 24 years across the table from UAW members, Art demonstrated a level of fairness and problem solving on complex labor management issues,” the UAW said in a statement following the announcement of Schwartz’s death. “It culminated with his role in working through the very difficult issues at play during the Auto rescue in 2009. Our thoughts are with Art’s family during this difficult time.”
After retiring from GM, Schwartz taught labor relations at Wayne State University in Detroit and started his own consulting firm often offering insights to the media on the course of labor relations in the manufacturing and sectors.