DETROIT — Critical concession talks between General Motors Corp. and the United Auto Workers are being overshadowed by a public spat about the automaker's plans to import vehicles from other countries while it closes 16 U.S. factories.
The fight, which began last week, continues less than two weeks before a June 1 deadline for GM and the union to reach a deal on concessions that are a part of the automaker's government-ordered restructuring. If GM can't reach deals with the union, debt holders and other stakeholders by the deadline, the century-old Detroit automaker will be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. GM has received $15.4 billion in government loans.
The union sent an e-mail to members Sunday night asking them to call or e-mail President Barack Obama to protest the imports and factory closures.
"The UAW strongly objects to GM's plan to close 16 manufacturing facilities in the United States, while at the same time dramatically increasing the number of vehicles it will be importing," the e-mail said. It said GM wants to nearly double the number of imports from Mexico, South Korea, Japan and China, costing 21,000 UAW jobs in the United States.
GM acknowledged in documents submitted to Congress that it plans to start importing small cars from China starting in 2011, with the number rising to more than 51,000 by 2014. But the company says the percentage of cars made and sold in the United States will remain stable, with fewer imports likely from Canada.
Industry analysts say GM needs to import small cars from countries with lower labor costs to remain competitive.
Also at issue is how to fund a union-run trust that will take over retiree health care costs next year. The government's autos task force wants the union to take GM stock in exchange for 50 percent of the $20 billion the company must pay into the trust.