In 1990, General Motors and the United Auto Workers started making the new Saturn car in a bold and innovative labor-management partnership. GM launched the partnership with a new $1.8-billion plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The partnership was acclaimed and copied around the world. But just 15 years later, management and the union abandoned their partnership to go back to their traditional national union contract. Why?
Through interviews with management, union leaders, academic experts and a wide range of Saturn workers, the film examines the reasons behind the abandonment of the formal labor-management partnership. Was it the loss of supportive leaders like Roger Smith and Al Warren of GM and Don Ephlin of the UAW and their replacement by less sympathetic replacements?
How well did the Saturn model work? What were its shortcomings? Could it have been saved? Should the leaders appointed by union officers have been elected instead? Did the experiment come at a bad time for the American automobile industry? Or was it just too bold for an industry that matured many years ago?
This 30-minute film gives a range of views from a range of people. The film also discusses the impact the Saturn experiment had on GM and the UAW. Saturnís lasting importance may be its impact on labor-management partnerships around the world. Yet strong elements of the partnership remain at Spring Hill on a less formal basis and have spread throughout GM.
What Happened to Saturn? is a followup to Merrimack’s 1994 classic film on the GM-UAW partnership, Working Together: Saturn and the UAW. That 31-minute film, which received a 4-star rating from Video Rating Guide for Libraries, shows the Saturn experiment when it was perhaps the most influential example of labor-management cooperation in the world.
Handshake photo by Jim West, Photographer
--David E. Cole, Chairman, Center for Automotive Research
“What Happened to Saturn? is required viewing for management, academics, and students…This film engages viewers to learn from Saturn’s triumphs and setbacks and to retain faith in the potential for meaningful and long lasting labor-management partnerships.”
--Howard Stanger, Associate Professor of Management, Canisius College
"Sharply focused interviews with many participants from both labor and management… Especially useful for stimulating undergraduate and graduate students in industrial relations, human resources, political economy, and the social sciences.”
--Stephen Amberg, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at San Antonio
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