Labor troubles brew anew

Labor troubles are not over in the auto and coal industries in spite of contract settlements between General Motors (GM) and the United Automobile Workers (UAW), and the United Mine Workers (UMW) and most soft-coal operators.

New strike deadlines have been set by UAW for the Ford Motor Company and General Motors of Canada, and there are scattered walkouts by the UMW against independent employers who are balking at accepting mine-union contract terms.

The UAW and Ford resumed contract talks this week, and the union has set an Oct. 10 deadline for a settlement that would follow the pattern of the GM agreement, which includes a wage increase and strengthened job security.

Canadian UAW locals are threatening to strike GM on Oct. 17 unless negotiations, which are continuing under contract extensions, result in a settlement. The UAW earlier said the Canadian locals want something more than the terms of GM's contract in the US. About 36,000 Canadian auto workers are involved.

In the coal industry, the UMW has struck two independent employers that are not members of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, which has settled with the union. More than 2,000 miners walked out Monday in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. But 110,000 miners were working under a new UMW-BCOA contract as the first strike-free settlement between them in 20 years took effect Monday.

The UAW and Ford put contract negotiations on hold Sept. 6 when the union chose GM as its 1984 bargaining target.

After tough negotiations and a few days of scattered local strikes, the union and GM reached a tentative settlement, on which GM unionists are now voting, giving workers an average 2.25 percent raise in the first year (the first raise in three years), and bonuses and cost-of-living increases in the second and third years of a new contract, plus a job-security package valued at $1 billion over six years.

''We will now take this to Ford,'' UAW president Owen Bieber said. But neither the union negotiators nor their Ford counterparts expect that their settlement will fully parallel that of UAW and GM.

Peter Pestillo, a Ford vice-president who is handling the UAW negotiations, immediately put the union on notice that Ford wants a contract of its own, not a copy of that reached between UAW and GM. He said that Ford ''won't walk in lockstep'' with any other company.

Within the industry, the GM terms are considered too expensive for the company. Although Ford is making record profits, along with GM, it is not as rich as giant GM and it currently depends more on sales of smaller cars that have a smaller profit margin than GM's large and luxury cars, and that are more vulnerable to Japanese competition.

Automotive industry analysts consider the GM contract ''a real problem'' for Ford, and one that could bring the company and UAW to a collision course - a possibility of a national strike - if the union insists that the No. 2 company meet terms negotiated with No. 1.

For its part, the UAW says the GM pattern, possibly with modifications, can work for Ford and even Chrysler now that the three companies are making comfortable profits. After Ford settles, the UAW plans to ask Chrysler to reopen its contract that runs into mid-1985.

Ford is reported to have hoped that the UAW would make it its strike target this year. This would have enabled Ford to negotiate a contract more to its liking by settling first. The company indicated early that it would prefer to settle for more job security - tougher restrictions on subcontracting work, and on foreign imports - with less of a wage increase.

Mr. Pestillo said Monday, ''Obviously we can't reach a settlement without some form of job protection, but whether it will be like the General Motors plan remains to be seen.'' Whether it can match GM's wage terms could be a bigger problem; the company considers labor costs too high now for small-car production , and the GM settlement could push total labor costs up from about $22 an hour, to about $28 an hour by 1987.

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