DETROIT - The death of a top UAW negotiator is not expected to cause a major disruption in the union's ongoing labor negotiations with DaimlerChrysler.
Jack Laskowski, vice president of the UAW's Chrysler Department, died Aug. 8 of a heart attack at age 59.
According to industry and union sources, Laskowski was a pragmatic leader who had forged a close working relationship with the former Chrysler Corp.
In 1996, Laskowski led the union's negotiations with Chrysler, delivering a new contract without much fuss.
That relationship is expected to survive, and the loss of Laskowski is not expected to unravel the negotiations, several sources say.
The UAW has not announced who will replace Laskowski at the bargaining table. Laskowski's assistant, John Guinan, could take the reins, or UAW President Steve Yokich might handle the negotiations himself.
After the start of the contract negotiations in June, most of the talks so far have been handled by subcommittees of the UAW and management.
TARGET IN FALL
Around Labor Day, the union is expected to pick a target company to negotiate a pattern contract for Ford Motor Co., General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. Once the target company has negotiated a contract, the deal is adopted, with minor modifications, by the remaining two automakers.
It is common for a company to want to be the target, since that allows the company to shape the contract's provisions to its advantage.
This year, many observers have been predicting DaimlerChrysler will be the target. DaimlerChrysler has ample resources, the lead negotiators had formed a strong bond, and the former Chrysler Corp. had not been a target since 1973, noted one source familiar with the negotiations.
The union will have to replace Laskowski quickly if it wants to choose DaimlerChrysler as its target.
Not everyone expects the current round of contract negotiations to be smooth. Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said Laskowski's death presents a challenge for the UAW negotiating team.
'Whoever fills in (for Laskowski) comes into the process with a different point of view,' Hargrove said.
Laskowski was named vice president of the UAW's Chrysler Department in 1995, after working as director of the union's Region 1D in the Detroit area. He also was the union representative on the board of directors of truckmaker Navistar International Corp.
CALM AT THE TABLE
According to those who knew him, Laskowski had a calm negotiating style, resolving issues without resorting to emotional outbursts or strong-arm tactics.
'Jack always said the issues between the company and the union are bigger than anyone's personality,' said Dennis Pawley, DaimlerChrysler's retired manufacturing chief and Laskowski's longtime counterpart across the bargaining table.
Earlier this decade, Pawley worked closely with Laskowski on a key Chrysler project. In the early 1990s, Pawley had begun to introduce lean-manufacturing concepts to Chrysler's assembly plants. Since a lean assembly plant needs fewer workers, the project could have touched off a war with the UAW.
Instead, Laskowski coaxed UAW leaders to join Chrysler managers in a teamwork-building exercise in Las Vegas, Pawley said in an interview last week.
'It would have been easy for Jack to walk away,' Pawley said. 'But he knew it was a competitive business, and the world has to change to keep pace.'