GM, auto worker talks likely to rev up again

General Motors workers, worried about the possibility of more layoffs, are likely to ask for an early resumption of contract negotiations between the United Automobile Workers (UAW) and GM.

Even if talks start soon, however, there is no assurance that they will be as smooth and effective as those that resulted in the recent Ford settlement.

A meeting of UAW's General Motors Council, made up of nearly 300 local union leaders, will decide within the next few days whether to open talks on the current GM contract that runs out Sept. 14. The union bargaining committee has voted unanimously to recommend a quick resumption of talks.

An earlier round of negotiations broke off Jan. 28, largely as a result of militant rank-and-file opposition to wage and benefits concessions to GM in return for more plant and job security. Since then, the company announced permanent or indefinite closings of eight plants, cutbacks that will idle 10,000 GM workers in addition to the 145,000 already laid off.

The shutdowns, and announcements that there will be more, have worried many of the 320,000 workers still on the job in GM plants. UAW officials now see a ''strong mandate'' developing for new talks aimed at a trade-off of future wage and benefits gains for guarantees that work will be kept in the US, plants will not be closed, and workers will be assured of jobs or income maintenance over the next three years.

Both GM and UAW leaders are eager to resume bargaining. The nation's No. 1 automaker is concerned about the continuing drop in its share of the market (from 64.1 percent a year ago to 57.3 percent now). GM sales plummeted in the most recent auto market report. From Feb. 21 to 28, GM was down 35.3 percent from its sales of a year ago.

Unless it can bargain early with UAW, and settle peacefully on a new contract , GM would face a contract expiration and a possibility of a long and bitter strike in mid-September -- just when many economists forecast a strong upturn in US auto sales.

Relations between GM and its unionized work force are not as smooth as those between Ford and UAW. Many GM workers consider the company to be unreasonable in its attitudes and policies. When polled in January about prospective terms for a settlement with GM, many complained to the union that GM was seeking too many concessions and only vaguely guaranteeing more job security.

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