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Innovative Saturn-UAW Contract Dismantled • June 26, 2004

The experiment is over.

It seemed like such a great idea at the time. Create an atmosphere where workers and management are empowered to work together in harmony. Saturn's historic labor agreement was the cornerstone of the corporation, fostering a relationship that fueled interest in the small-car company in individuals and organizations far beyond the confines of the automotive industry. But not anymore.

Nearly twenty years after the innovative labor contract was created, the Tennessean newspaper reports this evening that Spring Hill workers voted to dismantle the contract in a three-to-one vote. The new contract, which mirrors the national GM-UAW agreement currently in place at other General Motors plants, will go into affect at the beginning of next year.

"Some workers are concerned that Saturn will lose its identity if the original labor contract is abandoned," said the Detroit News in a story earlier this week. But without workers' approval to dismantle the original contract, GM said it could not guarantee the plant would remain in operation after the current generation Ion and Vue complete their production cycles in 2008-09. "With an approved contract, the membership has done everything in its power that it's been required to do to ensure the [GM] board of director's approval of future product and capital for this site," Mike Herron, UAW Local 1853 Chairman told the Tennessean. "We believe that the proposed contract is in the best interests of the employees and of the company," added Saturn spokeswoman Sherrie Childers-Arb.

The new agreement will bring improvements to the Spring Hill plant, including new paint and body shops. GM pledged that if workers agreed to sign the contract Spring Hill would remain open for at least the next ten years. Does that mean that the next generation Ion sedan, quad coupe, and Vue sport-utility will be produced in Spring Hill? "There are things in the agreement that allow for that," Herron told the Detroit News without elaborating. Sources have told that Spring Hill could also be tasked to build non-Saturn vehicles that are based on similar architectures.

One major omission in the new contract is Saturn's no layoff policy, which was an integral part of the original agreement. Labor analysts say that based on Spring Hill's current production rate, job cuts are inevitable. As many as 2,000 of the plant's 6,000 jobs could be eliminated in order to bring the facility in line with other GM plants. "Our goal has always been to keep folks working without and involuntary layoffs," Herron told the Tennessean. The newspaper says that the new contract has stipulations that call for early retirement offers and other voluntary actions before layoffs are mandated.

What do you think about the change? Sound off by voicing your opinion in this week's Question of the Week. You can also submit your comments to me via email.

More articles about Saturn's labor contract can be found here.

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Source: Tennessean, Detroit News

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