General Motors CEO Mary Barra described it as “an incredibly interesting time” for the automaker ahead of contract negotiations with the UAW in fall 2023 due to two unknowns: the future of union leadership and the health of the US economy.
But Barra, who spoke to the media Thursday at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit, said she had an idea of the main issues facing GM and the union, noting that an uncertain economy could influence the terms of a new contract.
“What do people want? They want job security and they want to be recognized…and compensated appropriately,” Barra said. “But it will be interesting, given the inflation and the (uncertain) economic context. Tell me what the economic situation will be next year. I don’t think anyone knows.”
Barra noted that the UAW leadership election isn’t “complete yet, so it will be important to watch” so GM’s negotiating team knows who it will sit with next year. Last week, UAW members had their first direct election of top leaders. There was no clear winner for the top job, leading to a runoff to determine whether current chairman Ray Curry will be ousted. Many reformist candidates won places. They are candidates who have raised concerns about the union’s long-running corruption scandal and its leaders’ perceived reluctance to sufficiently fight wage scales and other concessions. They will now have a seat at the decision-making table for years to come.
Meanwhile, hourly workers at GM’s joint-venture battery cell plant — Ultium Cells LLC in Lordstown, Ohio — began voting Wednesday on whether or not to have union representation at that plant. The results of this vote are expected late Friday or over the weekend. When asked what she thought of the possible unionization of the Ultium Cells factory, Barra said she supported the union and noted that her father, Ray Makela, was a tool and die maker. at GM’s former Pontiac plant and that she started at the plant there at age 18 as a co-op student at Kettering University.
“We are a company that has worked with unions around the world for many years, so we are pleased that Ultium has union representation,” Barra said. “We can work together on things like health and safety, quality training. I always say my teeth are straight because my dad worked for General Motors.
Barra said if Ultium Cells workers approve of a union, she would want a contract with them “as soon as possible.” But, she says, “We have to be competitive. We have no right to exist. We have to be competitive to have a business and move forward. We have this conversation with the employees on the ground and they You understand.”
Regarding worries about the economy, Barra said there are so many factors in the world that could tip the economy one way or the other that it is difficult to predict where it will end. . She listed global supply chain challenges, inflation and the war in Ukraine, all of which are persistent and all of which have a potential impact on the economy.
“As of last week, we are still seeing strong demand for our vehicles, but we are aware,” Barra said. “We’re seeing the steady rise in MSRPs (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices) come down a bit, but well ahead of where we were pre-COVID. Incentives remain weak.”
She added: “We’re setting our budget to be very conservative from a cost perspective, but still allow for an increase. We’re going to go very conservatively next year, but not so conservative that we can’t. fail to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
As for GM workers, Barra said many are returning to the newly renovated offices of the GM Global Technical Center in Warren three days a week, starting Jan. 30. She said employees she’s seen returning so far have told her, “I love this.”
“It’s an energy and a vibe. A culture has to be nurtured, and you can’t do that if you’re not in person,” Barra said. “There are a whole bunch of other GM employees who have already returned to work shortly after COVID. We believe we can do better” in person, noting that there are 30,000 parts in a vehicle and ” you can’t do that on Zoom.”
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