RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
The United Auto Workers strike against General Motors is over. Early this morning, the union and GM reached agreement on a new contract. Shortly afterwards, the UAW called off its two-day-old nationwide strike. Now, thousands of workers are returning to their jobs at GM factories around the country.
For more on today's agreement, we called Harley Shaiken. He's a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on labor issues.
Dr. HARLEY SHAIKEN (Labor Expert; Professor, University of California-Berkeley): Well, I think you can sum up a very complex, historic agreement in two words: competitiveness and jobs. From the company's point of view, they will likely have an agreement that will lower their cost structure in the U.S. considerably. From the union's point of view, they will likely have investment in future product and plants in the U.S., which will preserve the existing 73,000 GM jobs or perhaps even grow it slightly over the next four years.
MONTAGNE: But just looking at the strike itself for a moment, it was settled rather quickly. If you were to put this in a sort of win-win, lose-lose kind of language, did both sides come out what?
Dr. SHAIKEN: I think both sides have come out strong. There was no permanent damage as a result of the strike. It was very tough bargaining. GM wanted a contract that would lower its cost, more or less in line with their international competitors in U.S. plants.
The union was absolutely committed to preserving jobs. And the principles of many of the games they have won over the last 70 years: both sides made some very tough compromises, and both sides, I think, have something to show at the end of the day for what this contract will do.
MONTAGNE: That's labor expert Harley Shaiken at the University of California at Berkeley.
To get a view from the rank and file, we turn to union leader Mike O'Rourke. He's president of Local 1853 in Spring Hill, Tennessee. And he joins us now on the line. Good morning.
Mr. MIKE O'ROURKE (President, Local 1853, United Auto Workers Union): Good morning. How are you?
MONTAGNE: Fine. Thank you. So workers now have to approve this deal. I guess the details aren't all - that you know every little detail. But on your end, what happens next?
Mr. O'ROURKE: What will next is we'll get to roll out from Detroit. We'll roll it out to our leadership down here in Spring Hill and then we'll have roll out meetings with the rank-and-file, and then we'll have a ratification vote.
MONTAGNE: So I understand you're - at your headquarters a lot of your membership has turned out. What's the mood there?
Mr. O'ROURKE: I think the mood is very, very upbeat. They think that our leadership, you know, work very hard for them and it's very positive.
MONTAGNE: And are they positive, especially about any particular thing that they know is in this agreement?
Mr. O'ROURKE: I think, you know, from the rank-and-file's perspective, there was, you know, two very huge issues and it was absolutely health care and job security and they're feeling that both of the issues from our perspective were addressed.
MONTAGNE: One item in there had to do with a two-tiered wage system…
Mr. O'ROURKE: Right.
MONTAGNE: …which would mean lower pay for newer workers.
Mr. O'ROURKE: Mm-hmm.
MONTAGNE: What about the union members? Happy, unhappy or just resolved to accept that?
Mr. O'ROURKE: I think the emotions on that issue are mixed and I think there's a, you know, it's - the rank and file is very intelligent. We've all been at this a long time, and they understand it. They understand the competitiveness, that it's a global economy now and there are things that we're going to have to do to remain enviable institution.
MONTAGNE: And the question of taking on the cost of health care. There have been those who've said they would worry about that?
Mr. O'ROURKE: Well, absolutely. I think, you know, there's no doubt that this whole country should be worrying about health care because it's an epidemic in this country. And now the United Auto Workers will be the number one provider of health care in this nation and no doubt in my mind will become the biggest voice for some changes in this country.
MONTAGNE: Do you think the union will approve this new contract?
Mr. O'ROURKE: Yes. I do.
MONTAGNE: You do. From what…
Mr. O'ROURKE: I think there'll be a lot of good discussion on it at the local union halls in the country. And I think that when it comes down to crunch time, I firmly believe that they will approve this agreement.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you for joining us.
Mr. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Have a good day.
MONTAGNE: Mike O'Rourke is president of Local 1853 and was speaking to us from headquarters there in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
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