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King zings transplants at GM hug fest

GM CEO Dan Akerson (left to right) along with UAW President Bob King, GM Vice President Labor Relations Cathy Clegg, and UAW Vice President Joe Ashton at today's launch of formal contract talks in Detroit. Photo credit: Steve Fecht/General Motors

The UAW-Detroit 3 Mutual Admiration Society made its General Motors stop today.

It paused at Chrysler Group Monday and is headed to Ford Motor Co. on Friday.

Mutual admiration is about the best way I know to describe the public banter between UAW President Bob King and Detroit 3 negotiators during the ceremonial handshakes leading to contract talks.

Both sides have stuck assiduously to the themes of partnership, worker dignity, America and, most importantly, keeping the hometown teams competitive.

Never mind if collaboration means 113,000 UAW members working at the Detroit 3 get no wage increase for the third consecutive four-year contract cycle come Sept. 14.

The opening ceremony at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant had a party atmosphere more reminiscent of a political convention than a boardroom sit-down between respected foes. It was a celebration.

GM stopped the Chevrolet Volt production line for more than an hour for videos, soaring speeches by CEO Dan Akerson and King, as well as the handing over of a $25,000 ceremonial check — a joint donation from the UAW and GM — to the Wounded Warrior project for disabled military veterans. Akerson, a former Navy officer, personally matched that amount.It's pretty obvious now after love fests at Chrysler and GM that this happy talk isn't a facade to hide brass-knuckles bargaining to take place behind closed doors. They're looking for smooth sailing.

Bob King wants a fast deal that the Detroit 3 can afford, so he can move on to his real quarry this year: organizing the U.S. transplant operations of foreign automakers.

Today he made no mention of the $7,000 to $30,000 per worker in concessions that his members made to the Detroit 3 during the auto crisis. Nothing about clawing those back.

But he gave a hearty shout-out to the transplants — that they were next on his agenda if they didn't get enlightened about the valuable contributions the UAW can make to their productivity, quality and bottom lines.

Cathy Clegg, GM's labor relations chief, even gave King an attaboy. "We certainly wish the UAW success in their efforts," she said.

Listen up, y'all, down in right-to-work land.

These Detroit 3 contract talks will be a breeze.

Bob King will be on your doorsteps by mid-September at the latest, before the first dew forms on your college football fields.

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