Today, the Supervisory Board of GM’s ill-fated Opel division is meeting. For the first time, the unions are in the majority on the board. In addition to half of the seats in the boardroom being occupied by representatives named by labor, UAW boss Bob King is taking part in the meeting. It is unlikely that King’s vote will strengthen the labor side. King comes as an emissary of GM, where the UAW, through VEBA, owns 10 percent of the stock. Representing the capitalist side of the equation, King will have to vote for job losses and plant closures. If not today, then soon.
“The gathering is expected to last into late afternoon. It is not clear whether management will submit a mid-term business plan, which would include plant closures, or focus on less sensitive issues such as the appointment of a new sales chief.
“All signs point towards escalation regardless,” said one source close to the board, who said plant closures would be the elephant in the room even if they weren’t discussed.”
Another UAW sympathizer is the chairman of the supervisory board: Steve Girsky. Girsky came on (the) board at GM as representative of the UAW’s VEBA trust. As the chairman of the supervisory board, his vote counts twice in case the board is deadlocked.
Sending Girksy and King into the battle in Europe was a smart move by Akerson et al. Forced to vote against labor, Girsky and King will end up as cannon fodder in the intricate European labor dealings, which will weaken the position of the UAW. German auto executives watch this with great amusement. One anonymous exec said today on the phone:
“With these guys pushing for plant closures, the UAW has become enemy number one with the European unions. They will be treated as traitors. There goes their last chance for IG Metall help in the South.”
Other moves are not so smart. GM leaked too early that Bochum and Ellesmere port will be closed. 7,000 jobs will be lost. A smart tactician would have known to keep this option open as long as possible. A seasoned source close to Bochum labor leaders told Reuters:
“GM won’t announce any plant closure today anyway, since they’d be crazy to give up their trump card. The moment they say which plants are safe, they can no longer play them off against each other in the hopes of extracting concessions.”
The trouble is: The closures of Bochum and Ellesmere Port have already been leaked, galvanizing the union side into a united front.
PS: 48 hours later, it was announced that Bob King will take the seat for the labor side.