GM, UAW cut deal on jobs bank

GM, UAW cut deal on jobs bank http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070524/AUTO01/705240372/1148
About 400 General Motors Corp. skilled trades workers in Flint and
Lansing assigned to the automaker's controversial jobs bank may be forced to learn a different job or go to work at a distant factory if they don't take a new buyout offer extended by the company.
GM's move to clear out the jobs bank -- factory workers who collect most of their pay and benefits despite being laid off -- was made possible by a first-of-its-kind agreement with the United Auto Workers.
Under the terms, which apply only to skilled trades workers in Flint and Lansing, GM can compel those who don't take the buyout to retrain for another skilled trade, move them to an unskilled production job and even relocate them to a plant in another city or state.
"Remaining in the current jobs bank is not an option," GM spokesman Dan Flores said. "This is about GM and the UAW continually looking for ways to improve competitiveness."
Though limited in scope, the agreement shows some movement by the UAW on the jobs bank, which has come to symbolize the inefficiency baked into labor contracts between the union and Detroit's automakers.
It also suggests the UAW is more flexible than some might have thought as it prepares for crucial contract negotiations this summer.
"This is small in terms of numbers, but large in terms of attitude and impact," said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley. "This is an example of the fact that both sides would like to see GM succeed. The union is willing to be flexible when it makes sense, even though this is important to them."
The jobs bank programs were created by Detroit's automakers in the 1980s to win UAW support for efforts to boost productivity through increased automation and more flexible manufacturing. At the time, it gave workers much-needed job security.
Under the current rules, workers in the jobs bank are only required to take a job that's in their line of work and within 50 miles of their old job. Otherwise, they are assigned to the jobs bank and continue to receive nearly full pay.
GM won't say how many workers remain it its jobs bank, but the automaker cut the number by about 75 percent through last year's buyout program, which ushered out more than 24,300 U.S. union workers.
It is clear, however, that at some plants hundreds of workers who lost their jobs and have been unwilling to relocate are in the bank.
Placing skilled trades workers, which include electricians, machinists and others with special training, has proven particularly difficult because their narrow job description limits the positions they can take. Plus, some are trained in jobs that are now obsolete.
Even with the latest offers, the jobs bank will remain a concern for GM because it may have to assign more workers to the bank as it continues to downsize.
Under the new offer, workers would get a $35,000 lump-sum payment to retire. Workers with a minimum of 10 years service can get $140,000 in cash, as well as accrued pension benefits, but would forgo all other benefits, including health care. Those with less than 10 years can take a $70,000 buyout.
More than 300 workers in Lansing and 100 in Flint received the offer earlier this month and have 45 days to decide whether to take it. Most of them are in the jobs bank, but some active workers may be eligible if their departure would clear the way for moving somebody out of the jobs bank.
If the workers decline, GM could take one of several actions:
# Find a job opening in the worker's trade at another plant, which could be hundreds of miles away. Any move would come with up to $67,000 in relocation costs.
# Retrain them for another skilled trades job in a nearby plant. It is unlikely that any skilled trades jobs would be available near Flint or Lansing because, if they were, workers would already have been moved there.
# Find an assembly line job nearby or at a distant plant that requires no special training. The worker would still get the higher skilled trade wages.
Workers who take a line job or train for another position will get $3,000 toward the purchase of a GM vehicle. Skilled trades workers who go to the line also will have priority to go back to a skilled trades job if one opens.
If workers refuse all those options, they would be placed on official leave from GM, without any pay or benefits.
Nearly half of the 100 skilled trade workers at Flint's UAW Local 599 have been in the jobs bank for nearly a decade, according to Terry Everman, who is on the skilled trades committee for Local 599. They once worked at the Buick City Assembly Complex that closed in 1999, and some were laid off before the plant was idled.
When the plant closed, so, too, did the specific job classification for many skilled trades workers, Everman said. He does not think the latest offer will attract many takers.
"If they wanted to retire," Everman said, "they would have taken the earlier offer."
Still, he believes GM and the union are trying to do the right thing. "I trust the UAW is looking out for the best interests of our members."
If workers say 'no' If skilled trades workers at GM plants in Lansing and Flint turn down the latest buyout offer, the automaker could: # Find a job opening in the worker's trade at another plant, which could be hundreds of miles away. Any move would come with up to $67,000 in relocation costs. # Retrain them for another skilled trades job in a nearby or distant plant. # Find an assembly line job nearby or at a distant plant that requires no special training. Higher skilled trade wages would still apply.
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