GM strike reverberates around Magnolia State

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Published: July 27,1998

The number of workers laid-off as a result of the GM strike continues to climb at Delphi Packard and subsidiary plants in Mississippi.

About 1,300 workers have been laid off at Clinton and Brookhaven Delphi Packard plants with an additional 1,100 claims in other counties scattered around the state, said Johnny Conwill, director of unemployment insurance at Mississippi Employment Security Commission.

“If the labor dispute continues, perhaps several thousand additional claims scattered around the state will be added,” Conwill said.

More than 9,000 union workers in Flint, Mich. have been on strike since June 5 and June 11 because of grievances involving health, safety and work rules. Almost 200,000 workers at assembly and parts plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico have been affected as a result.

In Clinton, where more than 1,000 workers have been laid off, the economic effect should be minimal, said Greg Gearheart, president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce.

“We expect to see an impact, which would grow the longer the strike lasts,” Gearheart said. “A large percentage of Packard employees that live in Clinton are in the management area that hasn`t been affected by the strike yet. The workers who have been laid off had an opportunity to work a lot of overtime earlier this year, so we hope the short-term effect won`t be felt too strongly.”

Last week, UAW agreed to let an independent arbitrator, who acts as a judge and makes a ruling that results in a binding agreement, determine whether its strikes are legal. If ruled illegal, GM will probably seek monetary damages and an order forcing the 9,200 workers back into the two major parts plants.

“If the company had an arbitration and mediation program already in place, issues could be resolved in a more efficient manner,” said Powell Swearengen, owner of Southern Arbitration & Mediation in Jackson. “The right procedures were not in place, and both parties were adversely affected. Workers are not able to work, and the company is not able to put out a product. So much money and time is going to be wasted and both parties will be forced to agree.”

Last week, 96% of workers at Saturn`s plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. voted to approve a strike. Saturn, GM`s only U.S. plant still producing cars, opened in 1990. The strike may tarnish Saturn`s image of the place where contented workers turn out quality cars at “a different kind of car company.”

Bobby Purnell, a local union representative at Delphi Packard, said he didn`t expect Saturn workers to strike. “UAW is digging deep, creating a ripple effect,” Purnell said. “There seems to be no end in sight.”

Workers at Delphi Packard belong to International Union of Electrical Workers Local 698, which did not go on strike. Unemployment compensation was only recently approved by MESC, Conwill said.

While workers belong to a different union than the strikers, there was a question regarding approval of unemployment benefits. If workers received better pay as a result of the UAW strike, for example, they would directly benefit from the strike.

“We`re following this thing like everybody else,” Purnell said. “There`s no hot line for our union to call UAW for up-to-the-minute information. We find out through the Internet, media, wire services.”

The strike has also affected office staff at the Delphi Packard plant in Clinton. Lyn Smith, manager of Manpower in Jackson, said they supplied about 30 clerical employees who have all been laid off because of lack of work.

“We`re trying to put our people on other assignments and are working with them on benefits,” Smith said.

Dealerships and repair shops are also feeling the effects of the strike. Plants making GM vehicles have been shut down nationwide and parts won`t be generated until production starts again. Yet GM recalled 3,000 workers to the Oshawa, Ontario assembly plant, its lead plant for new pickups, and Detroit plant, where production of the 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twin pickups began in June, producing about 250 vehicles a day. Both plants are operating with stockpiled parts that were expected to run out in July.

“We haven`t had a shipment in a month,” said Jim Ray, sales manager for Yazoo Motor Company. “We have an adequate inventory for 30 days before we really start feeling the pinch. We`re working with what inventory we have now and stressing used cars and trucks.”

Kendall Glass, parts manager for Blackwell Chevrolet in Jackson, said parts orders are continuing to roll in daily from GM.

“We are experiencing some short supply of specific items, like sheet metal and electrical components, and we have a higher than normal backorder rate, but we have no decrease in inventory value at this time,” Glass said. “With an excess of $6 million in inventory, we have a little more than a two month supply.”


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