If I were a UAW member, there's no way I would give up health care, retirement or any other benefits just so 87-year-old investor Kirk Kerkorian could make another billion or two before he dies.
Having been a member of the steel workers union, I'm confident I understand the thinking on the shop floor.
That said, I would be willing to negotiate a fair reduction in benefits to keep the company alive. I would do it so that most of my union brothers and sisters would keep their jobs and retirees could keep most of their benefits and to make sure there are jobs for our children.
But it would need to be part of a broad, pain-sharing plan in which the brass, and every other stakeholder, sacrificed something of value. That's what made the Chrysler bailout work 25 years ago. Everybody sacrificed for the greater good.
It is still a reasonable approach, and it seems to be what UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice President Richard Shoemaker, who heads the union's GM Department, are willing to do.
They have been talking to GM, though they refuse to reopen the contract. Unfortunately, labor and management seem to be billions of dollars apart, which has led to speculation that GM might use the nuclear option and unilaterally take away benefits.
And you think the Democrats squawked about the Republicans' so-called nuclear option to end the logjam of filibusters on judicial nominees? Ha!
If GM pushes the button, the fallout could last for decades. That handshake across the table that opens every collective bargaining session must be more than symbolic. It can't be just a photo op. It must mean that each side of the table can trust the other. That's what makes the system work.
Yes, management is responsible to all stakeholders. Yes, management must do what is necessary to keep the enterprise alive, and it may come to the point where management believes it has no other option.
But if GM goes outside the handshake, the nuclear winter that follows will make the mistrust and bad blood of the 1990s seem like the good old days.
It almost certainly means that GM's hourly employees and their union never again will trust the current management team.
That, in turn, will severely strain day-to-day operations in GM's North American factories. And if the same management team is leading the company in 2007, it could make the next round of contract negotiations seem like a brawl among hooligans at an English soccer game.
Tough times require tough measures. But if I were a UAW member, I'd want my union's leadership and GM's brass to remember the words of Walter Reuther and find some way to reason together.