UAW steps back from GM pact that could have led to car price cuts

United Automobile Workers bargaining councils representing workers at General Motors and Ford will decide on Jan. 23 whether to continue early negotiations with the companies or suspend talks indefinitely.

The UAW broke off bargaining with GM on Jan. 20 in a disagreement over labor concessions sought by the company and job security demands by the union.

Douglas A. Fraser, president of the UAW, said in Detroit afterward, ''We now have to ask the question: 'Are we better off going forward at this time or should we wait until September 1982 to conclude an agreement?' That is the basic technical question.'' UAW contracts with major companies run into September of this year.

The break-off or recess in talks jolted GM's hopes for an early agreement that could lead to reductions of from $1,000 to $1,200 in auto prices. The likelihood of reductions has caused a further slowing of GM car sales, with potential buyers taking a wait-and-see attitude. Meanwhile, company dealers are suffering nationally despite offers of rebates should prices go down after cars are bought.

The UAW executive board will review bargaining progress in Detroit Jan. 22 and will draft recomendations for the GM and Ford councils that meet the following day. Union officials had hoped to have a tentative agreement to put before the councils, made up of representatives of locals that deal with each company. ''A variety of little things'' got in the way of an agreement, union officials say; they are still optimistic about a settlement, although they acknowledge that rank-and-file opposition to ''give-aways'' or concessions could cause problems.

Mr. Fraser called the break-off of talks ''disappointing and regrettable.'' GM also expressed disappointment but emphasized that the UAW has not withdrawn from an agreement in principle to link concessions by workers directly to reductions in automobile prices.

If precedents in UAW bargaining strategy are any guide, the union might shift its attention to Ford.

In the past, although the two major automakers bargained separately, GM and Ford kept a united front.

This time, GM and UAW discussed the linking of labor cost cuts and car price cuts privately and the announcement of an agreement in principle took Ford by surprise.

Ford reportedly has offered the union stronger job security than GM has offered so far, but Ford has not yet agreed to link union concessions and price reductions.

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