Autos

Ex-GM executive Bob Lutz hits union on strike over same issue that got him a 'D' at UC Berkeley

Key Points
  • Bob Lutz, who spent 47 years in the auto industry, believes now as he did decades ago that unions hinder American competitiveness.
  • Lutz recalls that he felt the same way when he was getting his MBA in the 1960s at UC Berkeley, which at the time was a hotbed of left-wing political activism.
  • The former GM vice chairman says that while he graduated with a 3.83 grade-point average he had difficulty with a labor relations graduate course.
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Ex-GM vice chairman Bob Lutz on UAW strike and a bad grade he got on labor relations

Bob Lutz, who spent 47 years in the auto industry and retired as General Motors vice chairman, believes now as he did decades ago that unions hinder American competitiveness.

Not surprisingly, Lutz on Tuesday criticized the United Auto Workers union over its three-week strike against GM. The two sides have been thus far unable to reach a labor deal to end the walkout, which is estimated to be costing the automaker $50 million to $100 million per day in lost production.

About 48,000 UAW members have been picketing outside GM's U.S. facilities since Sept. 16, prompting the automaker to furlough more than 10,000 of its non-UAW employees.

"The stakes really are American competitiveness," Lutz told CNBC, arguing if the union asks for too much it would hurt GM's ability to thrive. "General Motors pays well, cares for its people, has great health care."

A union spokesman didn't respond directly to Lutz's comments. He reiterated the UAW's position that its members "stood up for General Motors during their darkest hours," referring to the company's bankruptcy and federal bailout after the 2008 financial crisis. "Now they need a profitable GM to stand up for us, for strong wages, for job security, for a path for temporary workers to seniority," he said in an emailed statement.

Lutz recalled that he felt the same way when he was getting his MBA decades ago at the University of California, Berkeley. He got his business degree from UC Berkeley in 1962, at a time when the school was a hotbed of left-wing political activism. Generally, liberals and Democrats support labor unions whereas conservatives and Republicans don't. Lutz has called himself an economic conservative.

The former auto executive recalled that while he graduated with a 3.83 grade-point average he had difficulty with a labor relations graduate course.

"We had to write a term paper, and I touched on a number of aspects," he told "Squawk Box." "But because I wanted some balance I wrote in it that large unions had plenty to answer for when it came to loss of competitiveness of American industry."

"I got a 'D' on that paper," he said. "It was heavily red-circled. In the margin it says, 'You haven't obviously been paying attention in class.'"

In Tuesday's CNBC interview, Lutz was paired with UC Berkeley Labor Relations Professor Harley Shaiken, who said good-naturedly, "Bob, if you send me the paper, I'll try to raise the grade for you."

Shaiken then went on to disagree with Lutz, saying, "It's the competitiveness of the entire economy because of the union and the corporation working together versus being jammed like they are now."

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