Tuesday, September 25, 2007 at 7:27 AM
Thousands of United Autoworkers across the country walked off the job at General Motors plants yesterday. Here in Northeast Ohio, hundreds of workers in Lordstown picketed with signs outside the manufacturing plant after contract negotiations broken down this weekend. ideastream's economics Tasha Flournoy has more details.
Hundreds of Lordstown workers walked off the job after an 11:00 AM strike deadline set by the UAW passed. Armed with cobalt blue and white picket signs and bottled water, they circled the plant entrances as drivers passed and honked their horns in support.
Armando Labra has worked at the Lordstown plant for twelve years stamping auto parts. He and other union workers fear for their jobs and wonder if their plant will see new vehicles in the future. It's the lack of certainty about the plant's future and survival of the middle class that worry him.
Armando Labra: There's gotta be a time when we say enough is enough. We are working people. We're not millionaires. We're not CEOs or anything like that.
Nearly 3,000 hourly workers build cars like the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac at the Lordstown plant, just 60 miles southeast of Cleveland. During the first few hours of the strike workers speculated on why negotiations between GM and the UAW broke down. Some point the finger at foreign competition.
Toolmaker Joe DiCristoforo says foreign car makers are taking work from American companies by cutting corners and using cheap labor.
Joe DiCristoforo: They pay them cheap wages. How can we compete with them? You know everything's high. Gas is high. Water. You know. Your taxes. You know how you gonna take a cut in pay when everything is sky high?
Initially there was speculation that the union and automaker couldn't agree on a proposed health care trust for retirees - known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA - that would move $51 billion in unfunded retiree health costs off GM's books. But, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said job security is the biggest stumbling block.
Robert Ebert, an Economics Professor at Baldwin Wallace College, says that issue is especially troubling for workers at the Lordstown plant.
Robert Ebert: If a successor model isn't found. Then the jobs at Lordstown are very much in jeopardy. And, what the UAW would like is something in return for this healthcare issue in terms of job security and some assurance that their will be a successor car to the Cobalt.
As the future of GM's union workers looms, it still remains to be seen how long the strike will last. Ebert says GM has a roughly 70-day supply of cars and supplies in stock, slightly above the 60-day norm. But, he doesn't believe either side wants a prolonged strike for fear of missing out on the market share.
If the strike lasts a day to a week, he says it won't have much of an impact on the economy, but a protracted stalemate could have more serious consequences.
Robert Ebert: Now if it would suddenly become bitter, and the two sides really dig in. Then we're talking a month or 6 weeks or something. Then it could have definite impact on areas like Northeast Ohio, Detroit, etc.
Tasha Flournoy, 90.3.