UAW to members: We'll fight givebacks
DETROIT -- The United Auto Workers union plans to take a realistic and
creative approach to future bargaining that takes into account the turbulent
economic environment, but the UAW will resist givebacks on bedrock issues
such as health care, pensions and job protections.
The union, preparing for critical contract talks this summer with Detroit
automakers, outlined its bargaining goals in a 103-page proposed resolution
that will be debated by UAW leaders during a two-day convention that begins
today at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.
In the draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by The Detroit News,
the union acknowledged that it has had to make tough decisions in recent
years, agreeing to modify wages, health care, pensions and other forms of
compensation to preserve jobs.
"The coming years will be just as tough -- if not tougher," the proposed
The UAW left open the door to continued flexibility. "Rather than stand idly
by as industries and companies decline, UAW members will be challenged as
never before to pursue alternative strategies to improve quality and
productivity in order to enhance new business and service opportunities."
But the resolution also makes clear that the union intends to take an active
role in determining how employers and the union can adapt to changing
economic conditions while preserving benefits and job security.
"As restructurings continue in UAW workplaces, we will advocate for workers
to receive the maximum possible protection for the wages, health care and
pensions we were promised -- and which we deserve in exchange for our years
of dedicated service," the resolution states.
UAW spokesman Roger Kerson could not be reached for comment late Monday.
As in years past, the proposed resolution was crafted with input from UAW
locals and regional subcouncils from around the country and could be
modified during this week's convention.
Ultimately, however, about 1,500 delegates representing UAW workers in a
variety of industries across the country are expected to approve the
While the bargaining guidelines apply to all UAW-represented industries,
they are being finalized as the UAW prepares for what are expected to be
difficult negotiations with General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group.
Since the last auto contracts were negotiated in 2003, the union has agreed
to unprecedented concessions to help Detroit's struggling Big Three more
effectively compete with lower-cost foreign rivals.
In 2005, the UAW agreed to landmark health care concessions at Ford and GM
and is considering granting the same givebacks to Chrysler. The union also
has worked with all of the Detroit manufacturers to offer blue-collar
workers early retirement and cash buyout packages to help the companies
streamline their work forces as part of major restructurings to restore
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor,
describes the bargaining relationship between the UAW and the automakers as
"Labor and management work extremely well together," he said. "That bodes
well because this is a very, very dangerous period right now. I'm not sure
there is an issue in which the UAW will draw a line in the sand because they
realize they need a profitable Big Three to survive."
The bargaining goals detailed in the proposed resolution include pushing for
phased-in or trial retirement. The concept would allow workers to move
gradually into retirement by collecting pensions for two months a year while
working the other 10 months, for example. The next year, the worker would
collect a pension for four months and work eight. Within a few years the
worker would be fully retired.
The union also signaled some willingness to be more flexible on wages. The
UAW has already allowed lower wages for new hires at several auto suppliers
such as Delphi Corp. and American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. Some experts
predict the Big Three will push for a lower wage tier for new hires during
the contract talks.
"In some settings, unfortunately the prevailing industry standard is so low
that we have been forced to agree to new lower wage structures, particularly
for new hires," the resolution says. "The key in such situations is to
establish a realistic standard for that particular market and then work to
Delegates began picking up their copies of the resolution on Monday.
"I'm very optimistic, actually," said delegate Darwin Cooper, vice president
of Local UAW 1112, which represents workers at GM's Lordstown, Ohio, plant.
"What I sense in this resolution compared to previous ones is more of a
sense of urgency," said Cooper, 60, who has attended two other bargaining
"Pension, medical benefits are a big issue and most people understand now
the status quo is dead Mainly, I'm optimistic because I think intelligent
people head the union and the auto companies."
The bargaining goals detailed in the resolution also include:
a.. Seeking a reduction in the standard work week with no loss in pay. That
could include five days of fewer than eight hours, or a compressed work week
of four nine-hour days, according to the resolution.
a.. Resisting further shifting of health care costs to workers. GM, Ford and
Chrysler are expected to press hard for UAW members to pay more for health
care. Health care benefits are estimated to add $1,000 to the cost of every
domestic vehicle. GM. is the largest private purchaser of health care in the
United States, and reducing its annual $4.8 billion health care bill is a
a.. Improving the funding status of pension plans and making it more
difficult for companies to replace traditional pension plans with
employee-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s.
a.. Protecting the rights of workers who are employed by a bankrupt company.
That includes "seeking membership on creditors' committees and otherwise
engaging in the bankruptcy process," according to the resolution. The union
also says it will be "vigorously contesting motions to cancel collective
bargaining agreements and discontinue retiree benefits." Several auto
suppliers have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in recent years, most notably
Delphi, GM's former parts unit.
a.. Closing the gap between workers' pay and executive bonuses. The union's
four-year contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler expire Sept. 14. The
convention unofficially starts today with a protest by rank-and-file
members, some of whom will pass out petitions demanding no more concessions.
The petition has already been signed by 2,500 auto workers in Metro Detroit,
according to protest organizers.
Later in the morning, President Ron Gettelfinger will address the delegates
to officially open the convention.
"If they pull a knife, you pull a gun. If they put one of yours in the
hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue."
Sean Connery, "The Untouchables"