DETROIT – General Motors Corp. (GM) and the United Auto Workers on Sunday were nearing agreement on terms of a deal that would offer buyouts to thousands of factory workers at GM and its bankrupt former subsidiary Delphi Corp., a person familiar with the negotiations said.
Representatives of all three parties met through the weekend and were still in talks on Sunday evening in Detroit that were focused on the payments and benefits that union workers would receive to accept early retirement, according to people close to the talks.
If GM and the UAW were to reach such a deal, it would be covered by the existing union contract and would not have to be ratified by rank and file workers.
But the participation of Delphi in any agreement would have to be cleared by the same federal bankruptcy court expected to hear a motion by the auto parts supplier to void its existing labor contracts.
The negotiations, which have run for several months, have gathered momentum recently as the focus narrowed to exclude the more complicated question of how many plants Delphi will run and how many union workers it will employ after it comes out of bankruptcy, according to people close to the talks.
Concluding a deal over "accelerated attrition" for excess UAW workers would be an important sign of progress for GM, which came under fire last week after delaying the filing of its annual report and disclosing accounting errors going back to 2000.
GM Chief Financial Officer Fritz Henderson sent a message to all staff in the wake of that disclosure, warning that the company's reputation was at stake.
"Integrity is one of GM's core values and we take these matters seriously," Henderson wrote. "Whenever a company has to correct for accounting errors it can potentially tarnish the organization's reputation."
Henderson also said that GM was cooperating with a continuing investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been probing how the automaker has accounted for rebates from suppliers.
"There are some areas that remain under investigation by the SEC and GM is cooperating with the agency to address those concerns," he said.
GM, which is struggling to bring its costs in line with its slide in market share, has set a goal of cutting 30,000 blue-collar jobs by 2008.
Delphi, which filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. automotive history last October, has said it must slash wages, benefits and jobs to reorganize its struggling U.S. operations.
GM currently has about 105,000 blue-collar workers represented by the UAW. Delphi has more than 23,000.
When GM spun off Delphi in 1999 it did so with a pledge to cover union pension and health care benefits if they were ever terminated by its former unit.
The terms of the spinoff also made Delphi workers eligible to transfer back to the world's largest automaker.
Analysts have warned that a strike at Delphi could cripple GM by forcing it to shut down production and spend up to $5 billion a month.