If I were a UAW member, there's no way that 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 steelworkers union, I'm confident I understand the thinking on the shop floor.
That said, I'd 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 make sure there are jobs for our children.
But it would have to be part of a broad pain-sharing plan in which the brass - and every other stakeholder - sacrifices 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 is willing to do.
The UAW has been talking to GM, though it refuses 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.
If GM pushes the button, the fallout could last for decades. It almost certainly would mean that the union - and GM's hourly workers - would never again trust GM's current management team.
Yes, management must do what is necessary to keep the enterprise alive, and management may come to believe that it has no other option.
But if GM voids the contract, the nuclear winter that follows would make the bad blood of the 1990s seem like the good old days. It would 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.
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