DETROIT -- The United Auto Workers said on Thursday, Oct. 13, that the head of bankrupt auto parts maker Delphi Corp. would be wrong to assume the union will not stage a strike over his demand for steep wage and benefit cuts.
"Strikes are part of the collective bargaining process in normal times, and they certainly end up as a part of this process," UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker told Reuters.
"It would be presumptuous for anyone at this stage to suggest that is, or is not, what's going to happen. But it certainly is one of the options that is available," Shoemaker said.
His comments came a day after Delphi CEO Steve Miller, who plans to restructure the company under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, played down the possibility of a work stoppage.
Miller told a news conference that the UAW's leaders understood a strike would accomplish "absolutely nothing" and only cause the parts maker to shut down more U.S. plants as part of its restructuring while jeopardizing the pensions of UAW employees.
"I'd say that's an assumption on his part," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who joined Shoemaker in the telephone interview.
A strike at Delphi, the largest U.S. parts supplier, could have industrywide implications. It would hit especially hard at General Motors, however, which is Delphi's former parent and biggest customer. A 1998 strike at Delphi wreaked havoc with GM's production across North America for two months.
Gettelfinger and Shoemaker stopped short of saying that a walkout at Delphi was inevitable. But they said U.S. Bankruptcy Court had no power to prevent one and bridled at many of the statements Miller made at his news conference after Delphi headed into Chapter 11 over the weekend.
Among other comments, Miller made clear his belief that the days when working-class Americans could be lifted into the middle class by well-paid union jobs in the auto industry were over.
"The world pays knowledge workers far more than it pays manual, industrial workers," Miller said.
"Those are the very kind of inflammatory statements that really fire up the work force and make people believe that they're not appreciated," said Gettelfinger. "That is very offensive to people."
With UAW employees at Delphi facing demands for pays cuts in the range of about 63 percent, to $10 or $12 an hour, Gettelfinger and Shoemaker also said they would continue to protest executive compensation at Delphi, and its plan to offer executives incentives to stay with the company through its restructuring.
"He himself (Miller) got a $3 million signing bonus, he gets a $1.5 million salary, he gets $4 million at the end," Gettelfinger said. "And then you talk about what you want to force down the throat of people who are working for a living."
The union leaders also rejected Miller's suggestion on Wednesday, Oct. 12, that GM, the biggest employer of UAW workers, could be next in line for bankruptcy.
While GM is still the world's largest automaker, it remains mired in red ink and rating agencies are taking an increasingly dim view of its prospects.
GM shares many of the problems plaguing Delphi, including high wages and rising health care costs for hourly employees.
"He (Miller) would do well to let the people at GM run General Motors and focus on whatever the hell it is he's supposed to be doing with Delphi," said Shoemaker.
The veteran labor leader is the UAW's chief negotiator with both GM and Delphi.
Delphi spokesman Dave Bodkin said the company had no comment on the remarks from Gettelfinger and Shoemaker.