Union is set for a long standoff

United Auto Workers members hold signs during a strike at the General Motors Powertrain Plant in Warren, Mich., after a union-imposed strike deadline passed today.

Kai RYSSDAL: The union's about as set as it can be for this strike. The UAW has about $800 million in its strike fund. Enough to give everyone walking the pickets $200 a day and medical benefits for as long as two months. Earlier this afternoon we got Doug Rademacher on the phone. He's the president of UAW Local 602. That's in Lansing, Michigan.

Mr. Rademacher, it's Kai Ryssdal at Marketplace. How are you?

Doug Rademacher: Hi, Kai. I'm doing well today. We've had better days in my 29 years, but we're doing well.

RYSSDAL: I'm sure. Where have we caught you, sir?

RADEMACHER: Lansing, Michigan. I'm at the Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant. I've got [3,500]-3,600 members. We run about 1,200 per shift. We run around the clock. So we ensure the top-quality product that comes out of the plant, which is the new Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia, and the Buick Enclave. And the line never stops running.

RYSSDAL: It doesn't stop running until today, I guess that is, right?

RADEMACHER: Well, there you go. Yep.

RYSSDAL: In your mind, Mr. Rademacher, what is this strike about?

RADEMACHER: This strike is about taking care of workers, active and retired, with health care and compensation that'll afford them a decent, respectable standard of living throughout their final years.

RYSSDAL: Let me break it down into the two parts that certainly all the press has been focusing on. First of all, the health care trust fund. Are you satisfied with the way negotiations were going on that point?

RADEMACHER: Of course, I'm not inside that room. I don't know all the numbers, obviously. But, we understand it's a problem and we're willing to help take that on and take the responsiblity of that over. That's definitely a change in the last 70 years.

RYSSDAL: And on the issue of job security, Mr. Rademacher, you, in essence, are sort of betting on the come, here that General Motors is going to be around to provide jobs to your members, aren't you?

RADEMACHER: Absolutely. You know, four years ago, two groups of professionals sat down at a table. They worked hard and they came to an agreement. And we stand behind that. At the same time, it afforded General Motors Corporation to invest globally, to hire brand-new workforces in other countries. Brand new plants in Russia. Brand new plants in China. Brand new plants in India. All over this world they've been developing and growing and hiring lower-wage workers. At the same time, that agreement four years ago has afforded top management of General Motors to receive their multimillion-dollar wages. You haven't heard of any of them giving those up.

RYSSDAL: I guess my point, though, sir, is that the union, hoping that General Motors is going to be around, strikes me as a risky negotiating tactic.

RADEMACHER: We expect the company to recognize what we offer here, as far as the highest productive workforce in the world, and stand behind us as, again, we've provided them the revenues to grow globally.

RYSSDAL: How long do you think you're gonna be out there on the picket lines, Mr. Rademacher?

RADEMACHER: I hope this thing comes to an end tonight.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, but what do you really think?

RADEMACHER: Well, I gotta believe ... the fragility of the domestic auto industry ... I don't see this thing going on very long.

RYSSDAL: Temperature and weather working for you, for now, I suppose, huh?

RADEMACHER: Oh, it's too hot. It's actually 85 here in Michigan.

RYSSDAL: Doug Rademacher's the president of UAW Local 602 in Lansing, Michigan. Mr. Rademacher, thanks a lot for your time.

RADEMACHER: You bet. Thank you.

RYSSDAL: Shares in General Motors finished lower, given the news of the day. Could've been a whole lot worse, though. We'll have the details when we do the numbers.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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