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A Shift in Union Relations

One of the biggest measures of how much has really changed between the old and the new General Motors will be its relationship with the United Auto Workers union, former employees say.

October 27, 2009
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One of the biggest measures of how much has really changed between the old and the new General Motors will be its relationship with the United Auto Workers union, former employees say.

Changes to the union contracts have already helped close the “cost gap” between GM and its foreign rivals. The fast-tracked bankruptcy allowed GM to reduce funding for a UAW retiree health benefits fund, to eliminate a jobs bank that paid full salary to workers who had lost their jobs, and to cut programs and personnel at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, the company’s training and education program for union and salaried workers.

One thing GM could do to improve its relationship with labor is give HR representatives more authority to address concerns among workers at the plant level, enabling them to spend less time on grievances, says Dave Rinderer, a quality engineer with 37 years of experience in the auto industry.

Rinderer spent 13 years with Nissan, learning the efficiency methods that have put the Japanese automakers at the top of the global industry. Because of his experience with Nissan, GM recruited Rinderer, who spent 15 years with the company helping to build new plants around the globe.

“At Nissan we didn’t want to have a union, so we learned and actively worked at listening and solving people’s problems,” says Rinderer, a high-level manager whose job was eliminated recently.

The UAW did not respond to several requests for an interview for this article. GM also declined to make Diana Tremblay, vice president for labor relations, available for an interview. In a recent Web chat, Tremblay said GM and the UAW have established a joint team to work on reducing costs.

UAW members are not represented on GM’s recently created culture transformation team.

“The union would tell you, ‘It’s the responsibility of management to create a system we can contribute to,’ ” says Chris Oster, the company’s director of global change management and organizational development. “I think they have great hopes that the management team is putting that together.”

The focus for now is on changing the way the salaried workforce operates.

“We are starting with the salaried workforce in driving the cultural change,” says Katie McBride, executive director for global internal and executive communications and a member of the culture transformation team. “We’ve had some preliminary discussion with the UAW so they are aware of the cultural priorities, but at this time we are more focused on the salaried organization.”

Workforce Management, October 19, 2009, p. 32 -- Subscribe Now!

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