GM Corvette restart may bring strike deadline
07:47 a.m. Jul 25, 1998 Eastern

By David Lawder

FLINT, Mich. (Reuters) - General Motors Corp.'s plan to restart its Corvette sports car plant by using non-union parts could lead to a new strike notice from the United Auto Workers and its members have no intention of cooperating with the plan, a top UAW official said Friday.

UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker said the union's decision whether to issue a five-day strike deadline at the factory in Bowling Green, Ky., depended partly on whether GM's position changed on certain issues in talks to end the costly, 50-day-old parts plant strikes in Flint, Mich.

GM, which has been forced to idle 27 of 29 North American assembly plants because of the strikes, plans to restart the Corvette plant on Monday, along with a sport utility plant in Silao, Mexico, using alternate parts sources.

Shoemaker said GM will not be successful in building cars at the Kentucky plant.

``They'll get no more cooperation from our membership in starting up Bowling Green than they did in Romulus,'' he said, referring to GM's Romulus, Mich., engine plant, where hundreds of workers protested instructions to install Japanese-made replacement spark plugs onto truck engines.

He said GM's decision to try to restart plants with new parts suppliers was ``a mess'' that the automaker was better off without.

Workers at Flint's Delphi East parts plant, which normally supplies the plugs, went on strike June 11. Workers at the nearby Flint Metal Center struck June 5.

Shoemaker's comments came as a third day of arbitration hearings over the legality of the strikes wrapped up. The closed-door hearings before independent umpire Thomas Roberts were expected to conclude on Saturday with the remainder of the UAW's case and closing arguments from both sides.

The world's largest automaker claims the Flint strikes are illegal because they were prompted by job security and investment decisions, which are not ``strikeable'' issues under the national GM-UAW contract.

Should the 74-year-old Roberts agree, he could order the 9,200 strikers back to work, allowing GM to restart its assembly plants. He could also order the union to pay monetary damages to the automaker for strike losses, which could severely drain the union's coffers.

Analysts estimate GM is losing $80 million a day to the strikes, with total losses now exceeding $2 billion. Only two of its 29 North American assembly plants were operating this week.

Although Roberts -- who has arbitrated disputes between GM and the UAW for 11 years -- has 30 days to rule, most observers believe he will make a decision within the next week.

In Denver on Friday, GM's North American sales chief said the company may add special incentives during the strike to lure back customers who are worried that there are too few GM vehicles left on dealer lots to get a good deal.

``We're looking at a series of activities that we'll likely start over the next couple of weeks that will encourage consumers to come in and order product,'' GM vice president Ronald Zarrella said at a customer ride-and-drive event staged at Denver's vacant Stapleton Airport.

Zarrella said GM could stage a promotion offering a $10 discount for every day the strike forces a customer to wait for a car he or she has ordered. Details of the program will be hammered out over the next couple of weeks.

On Thursday, GM started running a national television commercial telling customers dealers still have more than 600,000 vehicles to sell. GM is now losing production of about 26,000 vehicles a day, Zarrella said.

GM was considering other steps to deal with the on Friday, as its six top executives met in Detroit to discuss possible restructuring actions and measures to further slash spending. GM has said previously that it will consider killing off marginal models and closing certain plants.

The members of the President's Council, led by Chairman Jack Smith, will have to report the status of the eight-week-old strikes and GM's actions to deal with them to the automaker's board of directors on Aug. 3.

GM spokesman Gerry Holmes confirmed that the executives were meeting, but would not discuss their agenda.

Industry sources said GM has decided to eliminate the Buick Riviera luxury coupe at the end of the 1998 model year -- one year sooner than planned. It also will likely discontinue the Oldsmobile Cutlass sooner than its previously scheduled demise in 1999.

Other models at risk, according to industry analysts, include the slow-selling Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird sport coupes. Plants that may be considered for closure include the Lordstown, Ohio, small-car plant; the Ste. Therese, Quebec, Camaro/Firebird plant; and a mid-sized van plant in Baltimore.

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