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GM's Labor Chief Leaves Talks as Deal Proves Elusive

July 13, 1998|From The Associated Press

High-level negotiations between General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers to end two crippling strikes stalled Sunday as GM's labor chief announced he was returning to Detroit.

Gerald Knechtel said plant-level talks would continue and that he would remain available to talk to UAW leaders. But his departure from face-to-face negotiations in Flint with UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker was a setback to settlement efforts.

Knechtel said last week that GM hoped to cut a deal to end the strikes and resolve disputes at two other plants in Ohio and Indiana by this weekend, to coincide with the end of the company's two-week summer vacation shutdown.

"I was optimistic publicly on Thursday, and I had every reason to be because there's no reason we could not achieve settlement of these disputes by today," he said. "But we haven't and we won't."

Shoemaker said he was not surprised that there had been no settlement. He predicted last month that the strikes could last into August.

"I didn't believe there was any reason for that kind of optimism," he said. "Day after day when the corporation expresses optimism knowing full well nothing's happening, eventually, somehow, you have to face that."

Knechtel blamed the UAW for what he called its unwillingness to compromise over investments GM has declined to make at the Flint Metal Center stamping plant.

The UAW has alleged that GM reneged on a promise to invest millions of dollars in the plant's engine cradle operations. GM says the union needs to change work rules that allow workers to quit work early once they reach a daily production quota.

Knechtel said the company was going "to intensify our scrutiny" of ways it can conserve money, including taking a closer look at planned capital investments. GM has hinted before that the strikes might force it to move up plans to eliminate slow-selling vehicle lines and close some plants.

He also said the company would continue to pursue its grievance alleging that the strikes are illegal under the UAW contract.

About 9,200 workers are on strike and about 162,000 other GM workers have been idled.

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