TIP SHEET: University of Virginia Experts on GM Labor Disputes

September 26, 2007

The two-day, nationwide strike by 73,000 United Auto Workers members against General Motors ended this week with a tentative agreement. The strike came in part over the union’s demand for job security for workers still at GM after the company completes a restructuring plan.

Reporters needing experts to comment on this development can contact the following U.Va. professors.

• William R. Johnson, professor and chairman of the Department of Economics, says, “Strikes are costly to both sides, so it hard to accept a ‘rational’ theory of strikes. In this case, given the tenuous finances of GM, the UAW risks bankrupting GM if it pushes too hard. One possible explanation for this strike is that the UAW leadership knows it needs to make major concessions to GM to preserve the company, but the members don't know that and would accuse the leadership of selling out if they conceded immediately. The strike is needed to convince the UAW membership that the concessions are the best deal that can be made, because the concessions will be made only after a fight. The members are ‘irrational’ in the sense that initially they don't know or believe how tenuous GM's financial condition is.”

Johnson received his bachelor of arts degree from Wesleyan University in 1968 and his economics Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975. He started teaching at U.Va. in 1974 and has been a visiting scholar at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Palo Alto, Calif., and a visiting assistant professor of economics at Stanford University.

Contact: (434) 924-3251 or wjohnson@virginia.edu.

• Guian McKee, an assistant professor at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, specializes in U.S. social policy history, urban history and civil rights history. He says, “The strike represents a bold move by the United Auto Workers union, given the challenges facing the automobile industry and one that reflects its long-standing history of aggressive acts even in times of economic uncertainty, which dates back to the Depression in the 1930s.”

McKee received a Ph.D. in American history at the University of California, Berkeley, and joined the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program in August 2002. He is completing a book on urban liberalism, de-industrialization, and the legacy of the New Deal in post-World War II Philadelphia, “Liberalism and the Problem of Jobs: Public Policy and Community Action in Postwar Philadelphia.”

Contact:  (434) 243-8856 or gam2n@virginia.edu