DETROIT – It's back to business at the Ren Cen on Saturday.
As of mid-afternoon, the General Motors team is still looking over the UAW counteroffer handed over late Friday night. There are also meetings going on inside the Ren Cen.
The expectation is the company will have a counter for the union at some point Saturday.
Whether that will lead to the kind of marathon negotiating usually required to get a tentative agreement is anyone's guess. Meantime, the rank and file break out the jackets and sweatshirts as they walk the picket line for the 27th day, anxiously awaiting the news there's a contract to consider.
More UAW-GM strike coverage:
Now, let's look back over the past 72 hours to get some perspective in what's transpired, particularly, in the P.R. battle.
Late Friday night, in addition to the news it made a counteroffer, the UAW craftily worded its press release, saying, "With this latest comprehensive proposal, if GM accepts and agrees to this group of proposals, we will have a Tentative Agreement." Thanks for stating the obvious! That's how the process works… in theory. It hasn't during this strike. The carefully chosen words show the release was meant to elicit exactly the headline I saw in one of the newspapers this morning; that somehow things are getting closer to a tentative agreement. Let's not get carried away here.
That counter came a full five days after GM's last counter. That is decidedly not how this is supposed to work, says former GM lead negotiator Arthur Schwartz, Ph.D. Earlier Friday, he was shocked the union was still working on a counter.
"They [GM] gave them [the UAW] an offer, a comprehensive offer, on Monday. It's Friday now and they haven't gotten a response? I would expect if my members were out on strike, I'd be responding within hours, not days," he said.
His point is, this process is taking too long. He chalks up the union's slow walk to inexperienced leadership living under the cloud of scandal. UAW President Gary Jones has not worked at the bargaining table like this previously. He is also under federal investigation. Schwartz believes the leadership is also reluctant to budge off its original positions for fear the rank and file will not ratify.
On Thursday, this situation caught the attention of GM CEO Mary Barra, who had her own face-to-face meeting with all the lead negotiators on both sides. I am told she exhorted the union to get this strike settled. She was frustrated no counter had been offered by Thursday.
The union found itself frustrated with GM's P.R. decisions regarding the Monday counter. The company published a press release detailing its version of that offer.
The union said "since the beginning of this negotiation, GM has not taken the issue of our more than 48,000 members seriously. In fact, at every step of the way, GM has attempted to undermine the ongoing, good-faith efforts the UAW has made to end this strike. The company's strategy from day one has been to play games at the expense of the workers. It has released half-truths, ripped away health care in the middle of the night and it reverted to previously weak and unacceptable proposals in response to the UAW's comprehensive solutions."
So, now we have a union counter. What are the big talking points? Well Local 4 News confirmed Friday that GM put on the table a sizable increase in plant investment. The original Sept. 14 deal offered $7 billion in plant investments. Friday it was offering $9 billion, nearly three quarters of a billion more for direct GM-UAW programs, the rest to joint ventures. Then GM offered a nice plum to the Detroit Hamtramck workforce.
GM wants to build a new electric pickup truck at the former Volt plant. It is one of the four plants GM unallocated this time last year. The electric version of the Silverado fits in with Mary Barra's total buy in for electric vehicles by 2025. Still, it's a small initial project and won't have a lot of employment attached to it. The truck project will not fill the Dham plant. It is likely GM would later build an SUV off that same electric platform. Yet, while this is supposed to make the union happy, it's not likely to move the needle much.
The union wants product commitments for all the plants closed. It also wants to protect the wages for those who will end up working on electric vehicles in the future. Right now, in Brownstown, GM-UAW employees are working under a side letter that pays them a lot less per hour than the regular rank and file. The UAW want to end that kind of situation.
There are several other issues over which the union is fighting with the company. One is the company's desire to close its education center. The palatial palace along the Detroit River near Stroh River Place is controversial. It's a highly valuable piece of property now, and much of the corruption the feds have uncovered in their investigation of the UAW stems from education centers. The UAW wants a slow wind down of the facility.
The union also wants better training for membership as technology changes. Batteries often are filled autonomously, there is 3-D printing moving into the industry and the union wants to ensure the company is offering good training and keeps the good wages coming. None of this is easy, nor is it simple.
As Center for Automotive Research Analyst Kristin Dziczek has repeatedly told Local Four Viewers: "It's always comes down to the things that are the economics, the core economics, base wage increases how many employees, what are the product guarantees, what's health care going to be? The things that cost a lot of money. You can't solve one them until you solve all of them."
While there is considerable pressure building to get a settlement this is a long, hard road. At least now there are offers moving across the table.
Whether that continues becomes a big question. We await the marathon talks and an eventual settlement. It could come Saturday, Sunday, during the Lions game or even next Saturday. We're all waiting and watching; while the billions in economic losses mount.