DETROIT -- Delphi CEO Steve Miller said last week that the supplier's financial problems aren't the fault of its workers and expressed hope that the company's wage dispute with Delphi's unions will end in a "soft landing" with financial help from General Motors.
Miller, co-keynote speaker at the Automotive News World Congress, said he was optimistic that three-way talks involving Delphi, the UAW and GM will give the supplier cost concessions without causing undue harm to workers.
"We need a soft landing," Miller told his dinner audience on the opening night of the event.
Miller did not offer specifics on the negotiations, but analysts have speculated that GM's participation might take the form of worker buyouts and an agreement that would allow Delphi hourly workers to flow back to the automaker.
Delphi was created in 1999 through the spinoff of GM's parts operations. GM remains its largest customer.
Miller said he wanted to debunk what he called myths about Delphi's bankruptcy. Auditing irregularities did not cause the supplier's financial woes, he said. And the company is not using Chapter 11 reorganization as an easy way to dump its pension obligations.
The giant auto supplier put its U.S. operations into Chapter 11 protection on Oct. 8.
Miller said Delphi's workers aren't to blame for the bankruptcy.
Workers negotiated high wages, he said, and the company is sensitive to the fact that they have built their budgets and mortgages around those wages.
Delphi's employees also have made production and quality gains and developed technology that has made the supplier a leader in many of its segments, Miller said.
That was a marked softening in tone from last fall, when Miller inflamed union passions with disparaging remarks about $65-an-hour grass-cutters at Delphi plants.
But sacrifices must be made to bring Delphi's costs in line with those of competitors, he said.
Miller ignited a firestorm soon after the Chapter 11 filing when he proposed that Delphi wages be cut to $9 an hour. He later revised that to about $10.50 an hour. The average hourly wage at Delphi stands at $27; benefits brings the figure to about $65, Delphi has said.
Miller said a new labor agreement would be in the best interest of Delphi, its workers and customers.
The UAW has threatened to strike Delphi if it tries to use bankruptcy court to terminate its labor agreements.
A strike by the supplier's 34,000 hourly U.S. workers could shut GM assembly lines in days. The automaker buys about $14 billion of Delphi components a year, or about 16 percent of its total $86 billion global parts purchase.
You may e-mail Dave Barkholz at [email protected]