GM shifting production to Mexico
Huge pay cuts at Ford.
GM shifting production to Mexico.
Chrysler expanding on its week-old turnaround plan.
It's no secret that Detroit automakers are expected to push for significant changes in UAW wages and benefits in the contract being negotiated this year.
But one of the nation's top auto economists raised eyebrows Tuesday among his industry colleagues when he suggested that hourly workers may have to give up more than ever before to protect U.S. assembly jobs.
Speaking to auto industry and regional representatives Tuesday morning in Ypsilanti, Sean McAlinden, the chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said the Detroit auto industry is in its darkest days and that decisions made in the contract being negotiated this year will go a long way to determining how and where the Detroit automakers do business.
Automotive analysts disagreed on some of McAlinden's predictions.
But on the heels of what could be the first year since 1991 that all the Detroit automakers lost money, UAW mid-contract concessions and buyouts became a reality and Toyota workers in Kentucky made more than the average UAW member, the idea is gaining momentum that the very nature of the contract between the UAW and Detroit's auto industry is set to change this year.
Among McAlinden's comments considered most controversial by other analysts were the predictions that:
Ford Motor Co. may ask the UAW to cut wages and benefits by 20% in the upcoming contract.
Ford must list the rest of the plants to close under its Way Forward restructuring plan in the 2007 contract.
Nearly 90% of the current GM hourly workforce will leave by 2011, giving GM leverage to win more changes from the UAW or result in more U.S. jobs transferred out of the country.
"Productivity will not solve these problems," McAlinden said. "We'll have to change prices -- that means wages, benefits. The problems are too large to rely upon gradual productivity -- at whatever reasonable rate -- to make a difference."
In 'dire straits'
The issue is most pressing at Ford, where McAlinden said it looks like the automaker may need wage and benefits costs cut by as much as 20% -- for annual savings of about $1.4 billion -- to survive. "We're really, really worried about Ford," he said. "They'll know by summer if their cash burn accelerates so much that they will need special concessions."
Ford lost a record $12.7 billion last year on falling sales of pickups and SUVs. And in an internal report to employees last week, Ford acknowledged that it achieved only one of four major targets in its turnaround plan in January.
While Ford more than achieved its overall cost reductions, the company missed its sales objectives and did not hit its targets to reduce material costs. It also hasn't hit its objective for "engaging employees."
Less than half of the company's employees, about 47%, have confidence in Ford's future. The company is aiming to improve that to 60% this year.
Analysts agreed that Ford is in "dire straits" but say it's dangerous to speculate so specifically -- and early -- about the concessions they'll seek.
"All you can say for certain, is that there will be tough demands and there will be differences," said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.
Gerald Meyers, former chief executive officer of American Motors Corp. and a professor of business management at the University of Michigan, said: "There is some merit to the claim now, because the industry is in such dire straits and descending with such speed into new territory."
He said he believes Ford will "probably try" to get 20% concessions, but doesn't think they'll win them.
And if the UAW gives in to concessions for Ford, it would likely lead to concessions for GM and Chrysler.
"They know full well that if they give it to Ford, then they've got to give it to GM," he said. "This pattern thing that was originated by the UAW is now coming back to haunt them."
Ford also has said it will close seven plants it has not yet identified. If it can't specify which ones in this contract, doing so later could be costly, he warned.
Behind the scenes
When the UAW contract expires in September, Ford's number of active UAW employees will have declined by 41% in four years to 55,000, McAlinden said. GM's UAW headcount will have declined by 39%, to 76,000, and Chrysler will have dropped by 30%, to 46,000, he said.
And by 2011, McAlinden forecasts, 90% of GM's current hourly workforce will be gone.
GM spokesman Dan Flores would not discuss negotiation strategy or describe the ages of GM's UAW labor force.
He did acknowledge that about 17,000 hourly workers are already eligible to retire under the contract's 30-and-out provision.
Ford and the UAW also declined to comment about McAlinden's suggestions.
The high expected turnover of hourly workers from the Baby Boom generation gives GM leverage, McAlinden said, to win more changes from the UAW in exchange for building the Saturn Astra in its Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant, instead of moving it to Mexico or another non- U.S. facility.
GM insiders and analysts said the automaker is considering Lordstown for as the potential assembly site for the Astra and Chevrolet Cobalt. But the company also is building a new small-car plant in Mexico, which McAlinden and other analysts agree could handle the Astra.
"I think the people in Lordstown are hoping that they can get it, but I wouldn't rule Mexico out," said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for IRN Inc. "I just don't know -- a small-car plant here in the U.S., I just don't know that you have a lot of future ... from a cost perspective. You are not dealing with a whole lot of margin."
McAlinden also indicated a belief that the Chrysler Group's restructuring plan, announced last Wednesday, could grow to include closing more plants than previously announced -- including Detroit Axle and Toledo Machining.
"We think the plants that were listed as possible shutdowns under the '03 agreement ... will potentially be put into that count," McAlinden said.
In 2003, Chrysler Group and the UAW signed a four-year contract that allows for the Toledo facility to be sold with union approval.
Chrysler had also originally proposed to close or sell Detroit Axle, Mt. Elliott Tool & Die and DaimlerChrysler Transportation, but the final contract protected those facilities, the UAW's 2003 contract highlights said.

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On Wed, 21 Feb 2007 01:11:17 -0800, a rock fell the sky, hitting iwhtcimtlfmwmaomopw on the head, and inspiring the following:

No way!
Does that mean my truck might have been built in sinaloa mexico?
Arriba Arriaba! Andele Andele!
kai ||
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