Delphi CEO Hopes for No Strike by Joseph
Company can restructure without shutdown, Miller says.
Delphi Asks Court to Toss Contracts by Joseph
Supplier plots new course — and asks the judge to turn it that way.
The United Auto Workers is holding
off on scheduling a strike vote among workers employed by Delphi Corp. as it
tries to develop a strategy for fighting the rising demands for concessions.
Complicating the search for a
strategy is the fact that the union is now going through a major leadership
change that will lead to the retirements of three of its most experienced
negotiators. Richard Shoemaker, Nate Gooden, and Gerald Bantom are scheduled to
retire. Shoemaker heads the union’s bargaining team at GM and Delphi; Gooden is
responsible for negotiations with the Chrysler Group; and Bantom handles talks
with Ford. Gooden also is a member of the DaimlerChrysler supervisory board.
The leadership changes will take
place will take place at one of the most critical junctures in the union’s
history. Ron Gettelfinger, the UAW president, isn’t expected to make any
announcements about specific replacements for Shoemaker, Gooden, and Bantom
until the very end of the union’s quadrennial constitutional convention in
Gettelfinger has said the union’s
basic goal is to keep well-paying jobs, complete with pensions and health
insurance, in the United States. However, it remains obvious that there are real
divisions within the union over what the union should do next, according to one
top-level executive in serious discussions with the union in recent weeks.
UAW spokesman Paul Krell said the
union is keeping its options open, particularly in the critical talks with
Delphi, which seem to be moving inexorably towards some kind of dramatic climax
“We’re not going to be tied to an
arbitrary date on the calendar,” Krell said. “We haven’t scheduled (the strike
vote) yet. If it’s needed we want to make sure it has maximum impact,” he
Shoemaker recently told local
union officers from Delphi plants that the union could put together a strike
vote quickly, if it became necessary.
Meanwhile, the federal bankruptcy
judge in New York has given preliminary approval for Delphi to offer early
retirement to 13,000 workers. Delphi is expected to open the early retirement
window as soon as possible.
Krell added that no one doubts the
union has the legal right to strike if Delphi elects to terminate the current
labor contract for remaining workers. Even Delphi officials agree the UAW and
other unions have the right to strike if Delphi’s current labor contract is
terminated via court action.
However, Delphi spokesman Lindsey
Williams said company executives believe it’s still possible and in the best
interest of all concerned to reach a negotiated settlement.
Last week, Delphi petitioned the
bankruptcy judge to set aside its current labor contracts with the UAW and five
other unions. A hearing on the petition is scheduled for May 9-10 in New York.
Judge Robert Drain is then expected to take about 30-45 days to rule.
“The judge’s decision is binary.
He either says, ‘yes, we can terminate the contract' or ‘no,’” Williams said.
Delphi then has ten days to terminate the agreement.
The contract has a no-strike
clause, but voiding the contract would open the door to a possible strike by the
union, according to John Murphy, the auto analyst for Merrill Lynch.
Williams also acknowledged the
termination could trigger a strike. However, he emphasized that Delphi’s
negotiators don’t believe that the discussions will actually reach the point
where the contract is terminated.
Delphi chairman and chief
executive Steve Miller said in an appearance at the Detroit Economic Club this
week that Delphi’s petition was more of an insurance policy than a threat.
There is ample time and
opportunity to reach a “consensual” revision in the current contract, Miller
emphasized during his speech. Over the years, union leader Gettelfinger has
shown a natural disposition toward negotiation rather than confrontation.
However, the concessions demanded
by Delphi are unprecedented. Too, the existence of a small but vocal
anti-concession group among Delphi workers has complicated the discussions.
Unionized Delphi employees earn
about $27 per hour and Delphi officials have insisted since the company filed
for bankruptcy last October that it can no longer afford to pay such lofty
Delphi has offered to pay $22 per
hour starting in July and then reduce wages again to $16.50 by September 2007.
The union, however, has noted the proposal depends on General Motors agreeing to
subsidize part of the wages.
GM has not agreed to any kind of subsidy, union officials said.