GM labor talks with UAW could be ‘in the home stretch’ as CEO Mary Barra joins negotiations

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United Auto Workers members on strike picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant on Sept. 25, 2019 in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – General Motors and the United Auto Workers are “in the home stretch” in reaching a tentative labor contract that could bring to a close the union’s 30-day strike that has cost the automaker an estimated $2 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The company’s top executives, including CEO Mary Barra and President Mark Reuss, sat in on the discussions on Tuesday to help hammer out some of the final details, according to people briefed on the talks, who asked not to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.

The UAW summoned local union leaders to Detroit earlier this week for a meeting Thursday to review its progress on the negotiations. Reuters reported that a tentative agreement could be announced as soon as Wednesday.

Shares rose more than 2% after opening at $35.47, but GM’s stock is still down by about 7% since Sept.13, the last trading day before the strike began.

This is the second time Barra has met with the union in the past week, however the previous meeting on Oct. 9 was separate from the main negotiating table.

The union has traditionally flown local union leaders in when a tentative agreement has been reached or, as was the case a month ago, to discuss and vote on other actions such as a strike.

A letter to local union leaders Monday night said the agenda for the meeting included a “contract update and any other agenda items to be determined,” leaving the door open for negotiators to reach a tentative agreement ahead of the meeting.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to comment on the letter. GM spokesman David Barnas confirmed talks are “ongoing,” but declined to comment on details of the discussions. Negotiations between the two sides ended Monday evening and are expected to resume Tuesday morning.

If a tentative agreement is not reached by the meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the union could update local leaders about the discussions in an attempt to determine what to do next.

“My guess is if there is no tentative agreement by Thursday, they will review the status of bargaining with the council and then try to obtain a consensus with respect to next steps,” said Colin Lightbody, a labor consultant and longtime negotiator for Fiat Chrysler.

Options for the union moving forward could include:

  • remaining on strike and continuing negotiations with GM;
  • discussing and voting on terms for remaining outstanding issues;
  • moving discussions to another automaker if negotiations have stalled, among others.

The summons of local UAW presidents and chairpersons comes after the two sides sent counter offers back and forth, with the union offering a counter proposal on Friday.

About 48,000 UAW members have been picketing outside GM’s U.S. facilities since Sept. 16. The strike entered its fifth week on Monday.

The work stoppage has rippled throughout the automaker’s North American operations, causing thousands of additional layoffs. Bank of America analysts estimate GM has lost more than $2 billion due to the strike.

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