GM, as reported by Reason's Hit and Run, has actually already had something of a breakthrough in labor costs, at least for new employees:
The current veteran UAW member at GM today has an average base wage of $28.12 an hour, but the cost of benefits, including pension and future retiree health care costs, nearly triples the cost to GM to $78.21, according to the Center for Automotive Research.
By comparison, new hires will be paid between $14 and $16.23 an hour. And even as they start to accumulate raises tied to seniority, the far less lucrative benefit package will limit GM's cost for those employees to $25.65 an hour.
So this puts GM in the position of shoving experienced employees out the door as fast as they can, to make way for lower cost employees hired under this new deal. Apparently GM also has more flexibility to manage costs in a downturn. Good news, assuming they can accelerate a 20 year demographic transition to about 6 months, avoid giving away too much to these newer workers when times are good again, and arrest market share declines with better cars. Oh, and I presume the UAW has not abandoned seniority, which means that in recession-driven layoffs over the next year, GM must being by laying off these much cheaper younger workers. Layoffs will actually mix their labor cost upwards.
I still don't want to bail them out. Like numerous other industries, from steel to airlines, there is no reason GM shouldn't have to pass through Chapter 11 on the road to recovery. However, the argument that GM is turning a corner if we just give them a little help seems to be persuasive with many folks around me, so much so I am tempted to buy some GM stock as a way to go long on my prediction of the creeping corporate state.
Update: On the other hand, this is a sign that GM may be scraping the bottom of the barrel for cash:
Cash-strapped General Motors Corp. said Monday it will delay reimbursing its dealers for rebates and other sales incentives, an indication that the company is starting to have cash-flow problems....Erich Merkle, lead auto analyst at the consulting firm Crowe Horwath LLP, said GM wouldn't delay payments if it had enough cash.
In the third quarter of this year, GM's operations burned through $7.5 billion in cash, offset somewhat by asset sales and financing activities. But this is really a pre-recession burn rate. What will the burn rate be over the next 6 months? There is an argument to be made that $25 billion is not going to last even a year, particularly given the dynamic that layoffs will hit mostly the lower-cost workers, and a Democratic Congress and Administration that is handing over the money may well restrict GM's freedom of movement on layoffs anyway. I can see the Obama administration now -- don't lay them off, lets put them all in a factory making green energy, uh, stuff.
"I don't even think they've got 60 days," Merkle said. "Their cash position is probably getting pretty weak right now, and it's cutting into those minimum reserves that they need on hand."