The threat of a strike at Delphi Corp. resurfaced this week, as a United Auto Workers leader warned of a possible walkout if Delphi tries to void its labor contracts in court in two weeks.
The comments by Richard Shoemaker, vice president of the UAW, to union leaders on Monday reinforced the high stakes in the talks between the UAW, Delphi and General Motors. As early as Feb. 17, bankrupt Delphi could ask the court to terminate its contracts, which could trigger a strike.
The possibility of a walkout has been raised before. UAW Local 686 Unit 1, which represents the Lockport plant's workers, warned its members last October to be prepared to strike in the event Delphi broke its contracts without union consent.
Delphi is pushing to cut hourly workers' wages and benefits, saying it needs the reductions to help the company survive and compete. Shoemaker said if no agreement is reached by Feb. 17, the court could impose an agreement "similar to or worse than" the company's proposal of last November, UAW 686 said in a bulletin dated Thursday.
"If this is the case, Shoemaker declared 'a strike is likely,' " UAW 686 said in its bulletin.
The November proposal called for deep cuts in workers' wages and benefits. Delphi withdrew it in December amid strong opposition by union leadership.
A strike at Delphi would have a ripple effect in the industry, from the Buffalo Niagara region, where its plant employs 3,800 people, to General Motors, which relies heavily on Delphi parts.
Paul Siejak, president of UAW 686 Unit 1, could not be reached to comment on Friday. Siejak has previously told his members that the union's executive board would make preparations in the event a strike is called.
Leaders of the UAW, Delphi and GM, from which Delphi was spun off, have held joint talks since late January to try to reach a resolution.
A UAW local representing Delphi workers in Sandusky, Ohio, quoted Shoemaker in its own bulletin this week as saying: "It's impossible to expect that our current wages and benefits will remain intact for the long term."
Still another UAW local, representing Delphi workers in Indiana, indicated to its members in a Wednesday bulletin that even if Delphi files to terminate the contracts and benefits packages on Feb. 17, a strike wouldn't necessarily happen immediately. The union would be given a chance to voice its objections, and then the judge would make a ruling on Delphi's request, a process that might not be completed until April, the local said.
The talks involving Delphi, the UAW, and GM are being watched closely in the industry. Delphi's chief executive officer, Robert "Steve" Miller, has consistently said the company must lower its labor costs in order to survive and compete. The UAW is trying to safeguard its workers' jobs, pay and benefits, and has warned that it might go on strike to protect them. GM wants to prevent disruption to its production of cars and trucks, by heading off a walkout at a major supplier.
Patrick Heraty, a professor of business administration at Hilbert College, said it is difficult to predict the outcome.
"It's as if all the parties involved are walking a very fine line here," Heraty said. And none of them, he added, is bargaining from a position of great strength.
For the UAW, agreeing to concessions might set a precedent for the workers it represents at other plants, he said. But the union could go on strike if the company doesn't bargain in good faith, he said.
"I do think nobody wants a strike," Heraty said of the parties involved in the talks.
A group of UAW members that operates outside UAW officialdom, called Soldiers of Solidarity, or SOS, has been warning its members for months of a possible strike at Delphi, and has urged them to prepare.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.