Detroit Free Press: Marick Masters on GM, UAW negotiation methods

Bargainers for General Motors and the UAW met until early evening Saturday in an attempt to reach a tentative contract agreement that the union's 46,000 members would ratify. It was the 13th day of the UAW's nationwide strike against GM and followed sessions that went past midnight Thursday and into Friday evening. The fact that the subcommittees elevated the difficult issues to the main table could be read two possible ways, said Marick Masters, director of labor at Wayne State University. "They put them on the front table in the hope that the people at the top will reach a solution," said Masters. "Or, that they could not reach agreement at the committee level and they’re kicking the problem upstairs." Masters said the overriding difficulty the UAW negotiators face is getting a tentative agreement membership will accept without much of a sales pitch. Therefore, "they are very reluctant to make a trade-off." At the same time, said Masters, "I don’t think that GM will concede on the issue of wanting a more flexible workforce," a reference to GM's desire to add more temporary workers. GM has now decided to pay health care costs of strikers after all rather than leaving that to the UAW. Even that reversal came as a surprise to UAW leaders after many strikers had filed for COBRA coverage last week. "GM has blindsided the UAW on several occasions," beyond the health care coverage issue, said Masters. He noted that GM surprised the UAW when it released a lot of details of its initial proposal to the UAW, an unusual move during negotiations. "I think GM is using whatever leverage it has to try to create a stage where the UAW feels it has to make a settlement," said Masters. "It may have backfired on them, when they said they wouldn’t pay the health care and now they are saying they would do it. Or they’re just misreading the situation." The long negotiations, coupled with the public posturing, leads Masters to conclude: "I’m not certain how well the parties are communicating with each other. I question how well they communicated even before they started negotiating. This may be a case where the distrust between the parties and the suspicion between the parties is such that they have a difficult time communicating.”

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