There is a temptation among those not directly involved to view contract negotiations between the UAW and the Detroit 3 as a bit of a sideshow, a sometimes disruptive distraction that directly impacts only a portion of the global auto industry.
That view is a luxury afforded to those whose lives and livelihoods are not on the line when General Motors, Ford and FCA US bargain with what is ultimately their largest supplier. But as we have been reminded this fall, the knock-on effects of what some view as a sideshow can be deadly serious for those walking a picket line or waiting for production to begin again after a lengthy strike.
UAW and GM negotiators deserve credit for reaching an agreement — though the path was long and arduous — in today’s climate. The now-ratified deal can be viewed as a compromise that left both workers and management satisfied about some things, and unfulfilled about others. That, ideally, is how successful labor negotiations should end.
In addition to an economics package that included raises and no added costs for health care, the UAW won improved situations for its lowest-paid members and enticements to retire for thousands of higher-seniority workers, including those displaced by plant closings. It also saved one of the four plants GM said it intended to close, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.
Though its costs increased, GM was able to maintain control and flexibility over future product allocations, and maintain lower-cost production in Mexico.
Perhaps most notably, the agreement calls for the wind-down of the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, the joint training center begun decades ago to retrain workers whose jobs were lost to productivity gains. The centers operated with the Detroit 3 were the flashpoints of the UAW corruption scandal that has rocked the union. They have outlived their usefulness, with automakers better meeting their functions alone.
Meanwhile, Ford and the union deserve credit for quickly coming to a tentative deal last week after the ratification of GM’s contract, potentially avoiding the disruption that beset its crosstown rival’s production and workers’ lives during the automaker’s work stoppage. Score one for pattern bargaining.
And FCA US would be wise to follow Ford’s example and resolve any issues with the UAW soon — it has other business to attend to, such as a pending merger with PSA.