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LABOR / Harry Bernstein

Japanese Hear Pitch From U.S. Labor Leaders


A group of high-ranking U.S. labor leaders has just returned from a mission to Japan that they hope will help swell Japanese investment in this country, produce more jobs for Americans and modify the negative impression that many Japanese executives have of U.S. unions.

The four days of meetings, the first of their kind, were proclaimed a success by both sides even though no one is predicting any revolutionary results.

However, the union officials said they hope that the meetings, which started April 16, will encourage the Japanese to significantly increase their investments in this country. The Japanese now estimate that they own $3 billion in stock in U.S. companies and hold 50% or more of 342 companies. Those at least half-owned by the Japanese have a total estimated U.S. work force of 90,000.

Lynn Williams, president of the United Steelworkers and a member of the delegation, said the Japanese executives "also seemed to realize that, contrary to some of their earlier impressions, American unions don't have horns sharpened and ready to gore their employers."

Keidanren, a Japanese federation that represents most of Japan's chief industries, said after the meetings that the discussions were "fruitful" and that the Japanese were "pleased to learn that the unions in the United States are now following a more cooperative line of labor-management relations."

Many American unionists have been to Japan to study work methods and labor relations. And some individual U.S. union leaders have gone there to discuss plans for moving Japanese plants to this country.

But the idea behind this delegation's trip, organized by the Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Work in America Institute, was to give the Japanese an overview of the mood these days of U.S. unions, particularly those that represent workers in industries hardest hit by Japanese imports. In some cases, industries have lobbied Congress to pass protectionist measures.

Don Ephlin, vice president of the United Auto Workers and a delegation member, said: "We told them that their investments in countries other than the United States will only encourage more protectionist actions by Congress." He added that increased Japanese investments could avert extreme actions by Congress to slow the importation of Japanese goods.

The unionists said they were peppered with what Ephlin called "tough questions from the Japanese industrialists, who usually just listen politely."

He cited as an example challenges from the Japanese to explain the recent report of President Reagan's Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, which indicated that cooperation between labor and management in the United States is the exception, not the rule.

Ephlin said he assured the cooperation-minded Japanese that, whenever American companies permit cooperation, unions welcome it.

However, he told the Japanese, U.S. companies too often spend "huge sums of money hiring anti-union consultants and then, when a union does win the right to represent workers in a company," an adversarial relationship is already in place and difficult to overcome.

He urged that, when the Japanese open U.S. plants, they not "listen to the anti-labor consultants who make money fighting unions but, rather, let the workers decide if they want a union, and, if they do, you will see the kind of cooperation you can get from American workers and their unions."

U.S. unionists are relying on the results of cooperative efforts between American unions and Japanese managers at the General Motors-Toyota plant in Fremont, Calif., Mazda's planned operations near Detroit and three National Steel-Nippon Kokan plants around the United States to finally convince the majority of Japanese managers that they are better off working with U.S. unions than fighting them.

But the Japanese are also watching for results where Japanese firms are fighting unions, as they are at Nissan's highly automated, $660-million plant in Smyrna, Tenn. One member of the U.S. delegation said that, in general, the Japanese feel that their companies benefit from cooperating with U.S. unions.

Jerry Rosow, head of the Work in America Institute, said Japanese managers in the United States have been pleased because productivity at their unionized companies has been 30% higher than they had anticipated.

In addition to Rosow, Williams of the United Steelworkers and Ephlin of the UAW, the U.S. delegation included Howard Samuel, president of the AFL-CIO industrial union department, which represents 41 AFL-CIO unions; Jack Sheinkman, secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers; Sol Chaikin, president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers; Donald Tucker, secretary-treasurer of the United Rubber Workers, and Clark Kerr, president emeritus of the University of California and now president of the Work in America Institute.

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