UAW, GM Labor Talks Continue : Observers Say They See Signs of Progress Toward Settling Strike

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Negotiators for General Motors Corp. and United Auto Workers union met for a third straight day Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, to try to settle a 12-day strike that has shuttered most of the auto maker's North American plants.

Talks that began about 9:30 a.m. continued into the evening, following 12 hours of meetings Saturday and 10 hours on Friday.

Operating under a media blackout, both sides have refused to indicate whether any progress has been made.

Still, the bargaining-table activity--the most in more than a week--is a sign of progress, observers said. The fact that neither side will discuss the substance of the talks publicly and that both the company and the union sent high-level negotiators to Dayton on Friday also indicate progress at the table, observers said.

"I think it means they're close," said Harley Shaiken, a labor relations professor at UC Berkeley. "My sense is they have intensified negotiations."

The two sides are seeking to resolve the walkout that began March 5 when nearly 3,000 UAW members struck two GM brake plants in Dayton to protest company plans to send work to an outside supplier.

The biggest strike against GM in 26 years has caused a shortage of brake parts that has idled 24 of the auto makers' 29 North American assembly plants and nearly 125,000 GM workers.

The union fears that the practice known as outsourcing, or giving work to outside suppliers, could eliminate GM jobs. GM says outsourcing is necessary for it to remain competitive.

The strike has cost GM as much as $400 million in first-quarter profit. That figure rises each day the walkout continues, analysts said. GM, which has a large supply of unsold cars and trucks, could make up some of the profit later in the year however, analysts said.

As of Friday, GM was operating three plants in Mexico and only one truck chassis plant in the United States. The company said it will resume production of its popular Suburban and Tahoe sport-utility vehicles today on an assembly line in Janesville, Wis. Another part of the Janesville plant closed last week. A plant in Doraville, Ga., was closed for reasons unrelated to the strike--it's being changed over to build GM's new minivans.

All other GM assembly plants are closed.

The strike has also forced GM suppliers to shut down plants. Varity Kelsey Hayes, for example, said it will idle its brake plant in Fowlerville, Mich., and lay off 220 employees.

Dale Brickner, associate director of Michigan State University's labor and industrial relations school, noted the apparent absence of UAW President Stephen Yokich during the strike. Yokich has not commented publicly since the strike began. That may be a sign that he has been talking with GM executives in Detroit.

"I have a feeling contract negotiations are going on in two places," Brickner said, referring to Dayton and Detroit.

It would probably take several days for GM assembly plants to resume operations if the Dayton plants were to restart production after reaching a settlement. That was the case two years ago when the Dayton workers launched a three-day strike over similar issues.

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