It's time for cooler heads to prevail at Delphi.
CEO Steve Miller insists that his request for the U.S. bankruptcy court to throw out its labor agreements is just an insurance policy to keep negotiations with the UAW on track. Not surprisingly, Delphi's workers are not convinced.
The company set a nasty tone for the talks with its insulting demand that the UAW accept an hourly rate of $9.50 for production workers. Since then, Delphi has backed off. The current demand of $16.50 an hour is reasonable and is in the ballpark with Delphi's competitors.
But workers are worried and angry. They fear they will lose their pensions and the ability to determine their own destiny through bargaining. Many believe they have nothing to lose and are ready to strike as a final act of defiance.
It doesn't have to end that way. Part of the problem is that workers view the lower wages as givebacks or takeaways. Those are fighting words to workers who won the benefits through good-faith collective bargaining.
Both sides should drop their narrow focus on givebacks and consider a quid pro quo. If workers get something of value in return, it's not a giveback, it's a trade.
Nearly 27 years ago, Chrysler Corp. avoided bankruptcy because cooler heads prevailed. Everybody came to the table, including the hourly workers, who took a pay cut. In exchange, UAW President Doug Fraser took a seat on the Chrysler board, and workers got an employee stock ownership program.
When Chrysler got healthy, workers made a killing. Why not try something similar at Delphi?
To be sure, the Chrysler model doesn't translate exactly because in Chapter 11 proceedings equity is worth a lot less. Traditionally, the UAW has shied away from accepting equity, which it considers a gamble and not in its members' best interest.
But the world has changed, and so must the thinking. Workers have to know that it's not the end of the world, and that they do have something to lose.
Admittedly, an equity deal would cause complexities for Delphi's creditors. So, like the worker-attrition program, such a deal might have to include General Motors.
But giving workers a piece of the action sure beats a strike.