DETROIT — General Motors did almost everything wrong last fall when it announced a plan to close five North American plants. The automaker came across as callous and greedy, and it inexplicably looked unprepared for the widespread backlash that followed.
GM’s strategy throughout the UAW’s strike, in contrast, has seemed much more thoughtfully planned. More than three weeks in, GM has lost plenty of money, but it hasn’t let that short-term concern change its approach.
The result is that most of the pressure to make a deal falls on the union’s side of the bargaining table.
The two sides went back and forth in public statements Thursday and Friday that blamed each other for the lack of a resolution.
GM said it’s still waiting for a response to the comprehensive offer it made four days earlier. Yet the UAW accused GM of “releasing half-truths” and “purposely stalling the process to starve UAW-GM workers off the picket lines to protect millions of dollars of corporate bonuses.”
One of the goals when a union goes on strike is to win public support for its cause. That can put pressure on the employer to agree to a deal.
The UAW went into this strike already compromised in its ability to get sympathy by the corruption scandal that has ensnared a number of former officials and could ultimately bring down some of its current leaders. It’s hard for the public to get behind an organization in which executives allegedly misused workers’ dues to take luxurious vacations while the rank-and-file have given up their regular paychecks for just $250 a week in (pretax) strike pay.
Economists estimate that the strike has resulted in more than 75,000 workers outside GM being laid off and the national economy is feeling the pain. Those workers aren’t likely to hold a positive opinion of the UAW, either, since the union is in control over the decision to continue or call off the strike.
GM has been unusually forthcoming about the details of its proposals. Some workers on the picket lines — some of whom have reportedly taken second jobs or put their homes up for sale — have to be questioning why union leaders have refused those offers, especially when the union has not provided any specifics about any of its counterproposals.
Workers’ bills are accumulating. The weather on the picket lines is deteriorating. The local economies surrounding GM plants are suffering.
The strike already has persuaded GM to improve what it’s offering. If the UAW continues to hold out, it risks giving itself the same kind of black eye GM sustained when it upended thousands of employees’ lives last fall.