General Motors Corp. slowed the spreading effects of a strike at a key parts-making complex Wednesday by changing the mix of cars and trucks it builds.
By evening, parts shortages caused by the walkout of 11,500 workers at the Buick City complex in Flint, Mich., had forced two other GM plants to shut down. A third assembly plant was scheduled to close Saturday.
The Buick City complex assembles Buick Park Avenue and LeSabre models and Oldsmobile Eighty-Eights. But it also makes V-6 engines and transmission and suspension parts that go into other GM cars and trucks.
If the strike drags on for more than a week or so, shortages of those components could shut down most of GM's North American operations and force the layoff of hundreds of thousands of workers.
About 6,550 workers at two assembly plants in Lansing, 50 miles southwest of Flint, were laid off late Tuesday, hours after the strike began. They ran out of parts for Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Achieva and Pontiac Grand Am models.
Some other plants kept their assembly lines moving by changing the mix of cars and trucks to models that do not use parts from the Flint complex.
"They can continue running for some time by going to different transmission options or engine options," GM spokesman John Shea said.
Negotiators for the company and United Auto Workers Local 599 in Flint met for about nine hours Wednesday and were scheduled to resume talks this morning.
The UAW is complaining that employees are being forced to work longer and faster to keep up with demand for cars and trucks and that this is making them sick and threatening their safety. The union also complained about the use of non-union outside employees.
The company, trying to improve productivity and the bottom line, has eliminated 52,000 hourly jobs since 1991. It is reluctant to hire new workers because they essentially are hired for life under the UAW contract.
If the strike shuts down most of GM's North American operations, the auto maker could lose $45 million a day in profits, said industry analyst David Healy of S.G. Warburg & Co. in New York.
"With the intent to buy so high right now, if there isn't any guarantee of (new GM cars and trucks) coming soon--the window is about two weeks--customers will go shopping for something else," said Art Spinella of CNW Marketing-Research in Bandon, Ore., an auto industry consulting firm.