GM's meetings with auto union progress slowly


The walkout by 3,200 production workers at the General Motors Corp. assembly plant on Broening Highway begins its fifth day with both sides reporting no end in sight.

Company officials and negotiators of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers union met at the bargaining table again yesterday morning, but their talks lasted less than an hour, according to Terry Youngerman, personnel director at the GM plant and a member of management's bargaining committee.

Mr. Youngerman said that the duration of the meeting was not a sign that the two sides are at an impasse. "There were no blowups or no fist fights," he said. "It was a mutual agreement to end the talks for the day and to return to the table again at 9:30 tomorrow [Friday] morning."

He said that the company is still optimistic about a settlement. Mr. Youngerman said that there usually comes a time in the negotiating process when it is possible to sense that a settlement is near. "I cannot sense that right now," he said, "but this could change tomorrow."

Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239, said that the union presented its proposal at yesterday's meeting and that it was countered by a company proposal. "In essence," Mr. Trump said, "they're telling our people to go to hell. Nothing has happened to cause them to change their lack of sensitivity towards the human rights of their workers."

One of the major stumbling blocks to a settlement of the labor dispute is the company's insistence that employees work 55 minutes out of each hour, both sides say.

"This doesn't mean that you work 55 minutes and take a five-minute break," said Mr. Trump. The five minutes are scattered over the course of the working hour, and may include mere seconds between installing a part on one van before the next one moves into place on the assembly line, he said.

"There is not time to get a drink of water, blow your nose or tie a shoelace," Mr. Trump said.

Prior to the company's elimination of about 400 jobs in February, Mr. Trump said, employees were probably working 45 to 47 minutes each hour. The increased workload, the union argues, has resulted in an abnormally high number of injuries and accidents on the job.

Mr. Youngerman said that some of GM's competitors in the minivan market, including Ford Motor Co.'s assembly plant in St. Louis, have employees working 55 minutes per hour or a little less. "That's our competition," he added. "That's a factor that helps determine our price and our market."

The strike's impact is being felt by more than the employees living on $100-a-week strike benefits. Some GM suppliers are having trouble keeping their workers employed.

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