Commercial Appeal: Marick Masters on GM, UAW labor negotiations

Ten years after a taxpayer bailout, General Motors and the United Auto Workers union face a strike deadline late Saturday as both sides spar over employment levels in auto plants. Competition a decade ago from the array of German, Japanese and South Korean auto plants located within a five hour drive of Nashville humbled GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, along with the crashing U.S. economy. This time around, the same international automakers haunt the bargaining table in Detroit. It happens through the transplants’ reliance on lower-wage temporary workers employed primarily in 10 automotive factories in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Using lower-wage temps in GM plants has emerged as one of the key points in the negotiations since the present UAW labor contract was signed in 2015. “General Motors is very much at the tipping point,” said business professor Marick Masters of Wayne State University and author of the 1996 book, “Unions at the Crossroads.” Masters contends the UAW militancy traces to when GM was the world’s largest corporation and amassing profits as American middle class incomes rose year after year. Tough bargaining secured a share of the profits for autoworkers. “The industry knows there is an intense challenge ahead, but it’s unclear where the new technology may lead and even who the next set of competitors may be,” Masters said. “The industry is changing, but the role of the union has failed to change significantly to keep pace with the times.”

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