UAW to members: We'll fight givebacks

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 resolution states.
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 resolution.
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 profits.
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, describes the bargaining relationship between the UAW and the automakers as "very mature."
"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 raise it."
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 conventions.
"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 key goal.
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"
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