Originally created 07/12/98

UAW leader pessimistic about prospects for strike settlement soon



FLINT, Mich. -- The United Auto Workers' chief negotiator in talks to end two devastating strikes against General Motors Corp. is pessimistic about prospects for an agreement.

"We're not any closer today than we were a couple of days ago," Richard Shoemaker said Saturday.

"I don't think there's any prospect of getting it settled by Monday unless they step up to the table and very quickly say that they're prepared to resolve the issues," said Shoemaker, the UAW's vice president in charge of GM relations.

GM's losses from the walkout already are estimated at nearly $1.2 billion.

Talks resumed Saturday at the two strikebound parts plants in Flint, along with the Buick City complex there. The UAW wants outstanding disputes at Buick City settled along with those at the parts plants.

The Flint strikes by about 9,200 workers have idled about 162,000 other GM workers at 26 assembly plants and more than 100 parts plants throughout North America.

Shoemaker criticized GM's management for recent optimistic statements that a settlement could come this weekend.

"The optimism that's been expressed to the media has not flowed down one iota to the local bargaining tables, nor has it otherwise impacted the discussions there," he said.

GM spokeswoman Charlotte Grim said Saturday the company will stand by the earlier comments.

"We're going to work toward a settlement as soon as possible," she said. "I guess there's a difference between optimism and intensity. We're going to continue talking with the same degree of intensity we have all along."

GM is insisting that any deal include resolution of problems under negotiation at two brake plants in Dayton, Ohio, and at a stamping plant in Indianapolis. The No. 1 automaker wants assurance that it won't face strikes at those plants after the Flint walkouts end.

"All we're trying to do is remove that risk," GM labor chief Gerald Knechtel said Friday.

Shoemaker, who raised the threat of strikes at Dayton and Indianapolis during the UAW convention late last month, said GM's strategy of linking the talks in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan was "absolutely foolhardy."

"Not only could they face strikes at Dayton and Indianapolis, they of course could face strikes at other locations down the road," he said.

Some progress was reported in the talks at Buick City. A UAW source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiators had tentatively agreed to add several hundred jobs and protect at least 1,000 others at the powertrain parts operation there.

However, the source said some issues still remain to be worked out.