DETROIT — The UAW's last national strike against General Motors was over so fast that workers barely had time to ponder the consequences of missed pay, and minimal production losses were quickly made up.
But this time, with no quick resolution, both sides spent last week digging in for what could become a battle of attrition between union members whose pay and insurance have been cut and an automaker whose dealer body and supplier network already have begun feeling squeezed.
Most forecasters and Wall Street analysts agree it would take weeks, if not months, to truly dent GM's bottom line, even as the company loses an estimated $50 million to $100 million each day production is idled. Inventory levels, well above the industry average, can keep dealership lots full for the foreseeable future, but some dealers have voiced concern that parts shortages could soon cripple their service departments.
Meanwhile, some GM suppliers, including Nexteer Automotive, warned temporary layoffs were expected soon.
The UAW faces a tougher challenge so long as a deal remains elusive. Its strike fund is flush with more than $700 million, but the cost of the walkout rose unexpectedly as GM abruptly shifted responsibility for workers' health care to the union and will increase further once the union starts doling out $250 a week in strike pay.
GM's tactical decision to abruptly kick roughly 46,000 hourly workers off their normal health coverage, though it generated negative headlines, added pressure on the union. And while the work stoppage has given employees a release valve to air long-festering grievances on wages, health care and job security, many voiced apprehension as the realities of living on a fraction of their normal pay settled in.
"I wanted to do it to say I was able to strike and we made history," Domanique Henry, who works at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, said Friday, Sept. 20, the fifth day of the strike. "But now it's getting serious. I have a child that I have to take care of and bills that have to be paid."
Even rank and file quoted in the UAW's advocacy materials have expressed mixed emotions.