Negotiations began Monday in Detroit on a new contract between General Motors and the United Auto Workers, less than a week after the Ford Motor Co. and the UAW agreed to a new three-year contract that includes sweeping job guarantees.
Many analysts are predicting that GM will not be able to match Ford's agreement, and that a strike will result.
GM's 4,000 workers at its Van Nuys assembly plant are anxiously awaiting the outcome. "There are a lot of people expecting to go out on strike," said Larry Barker, a 10-year Van Nuys veteran.
Plant manager Ernest Schaefer confirmed that workers are concerned.
"I get a lot of questions when I walk around the floor as to what's going to happen," he said. "They know we're at a crossroads."
The Van Nuys plant makes Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros.
Peter Z. Beltran, the shop chairman representing Local 645 in Van Nuys, said he expects to be called to Detroit in a week or two to meet with UAW executives. He said he anticipates a strike.
Apparently, some workers already are preparing for a strike by claiming injury and taking disability leave. Workers on leave are paid during a strike.
Last week, a GM official confirmed that disability leaves are up at the Van Nuys plant. The official refused to disclose the amount of the increase.
GM officials already have their hands full at the Van Nuys plant without the prospect of a strike. In May, GM installed team concept, a manufacturing method that has not worked out as well as anticipated.
Shut Down Production
In team concept, when a worker spots a defect, he or she has the power to stop the assembly line, shutting down production.
Schaefer sent a letter to Van Nuys' 4,000 employees on Sept. 4, saying that the assembly line was being stopped too frequently.
"We have not met our daily schedule and have built almost 1,200 fewer cars than requested by our customers," Schaefer wrote.
"Many of these customers are not waiting for us to build their cars, but are going elsewhere to buy a competitive product."