Jul 23, 2007

UAW, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Fight To Survive At Retirees Expense

Over the years auto workers have given up wage-gains, allowing the company to walk away with a promise of improved retirement benefits. Now that the future is here, the companies are going to attempt to negotiate their way out of those promises.

Last year the combined big three (B3) lost $15 billion and face legacy costs of $114 billion from those previous “promises”. The auto makers priorities are no secret; transfer those legacy costs to a shrinking UAW, drastically cut wages, shift the healthcare and retirement costs to their current workforce, implement a two-tier wage schedule and increase the use of part-time workers.

As written about in
Toyota Is Running A One Person Hybrid Race, the B3 made a conscious decision to give up the small car market preferring the higher margins obtained by pumping out petrosauruses. That decision has allowed the small car manufacturers to capture the U.S. market putting the B3 at a huge disadvantage.

As the contract negotiations get underway there are a few other current events that help shape the UAW’s position. In the recent contract signed with bankrupt (financially and morally) Delphi,
the Future of the Union writes:

“A federal bankruptcy judge approved this morning a new labor deal between Delphi Corp and the United Auto Workers that offers senior workers cash payments in exchange for accepting lower wages."

“Delphi will close 11 of 21 UAW represented plants. It will operate 4, while 7 will be sold and operated by other companies. As a result, the 17,000 UAW members at Delphi will drop to 10,000 or 11,000 in the next few years —“

But it would appear that the UAW is getting help laying down the rules for the “part-time” designation, from a Business First of Buffalo article Delphi faces out-of-state hurdle by Thomas Hartley:

”A union representing more than 2,000 workers at Delphi Corp. plants in Ohio, Alabama and Mississippi said Friday that it has filed a contract termination notice with the bankrupt automotive-parts supplier.”

From Delphi accepts equity bid; judge approves union deal by Vinnee Tong
of the Associated Press and printed on the journalgazette.net:

“Wages will drop to a range of $14 to $18.50 an hour from $27 an hour. The cuts are effective immediately."

Equal work, unequal pay Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

"BELVIDERE, Ill . -- At $18.50 an hour with limited benefits, Forrest Ammons earns a decent living building cars at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant."

"But Ammons toils side-by-side with workers who make $10 an hour more than he does and enjoy full health care coverage, generous vacation time and a host of other benefits and protections."

"Ammons, 35, is what's known at the Belvidere plant as an "enhanced temporary worker," a designation that not only sets him apart from his full-time co-workers."

From the Dayton Business Journal article Delphi union initiates strike plan:
“The IUE-CWA labor union said Friday that it has filed a contract termination notice with Troy, Mich.-based Delphi. The notice allows the local chapters to strike after midnight Oct. 13.”

“As part of the notice, the union also revoked its permission for Delphi to continue to use temporary employees in IUE-CWA represented facilities. The union said Delphi has the option of reducing production output or hiring the workers as permanent.”

From Contract showdown begins by Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

”Nothing less than the future of the U.S. auto industry is at stake in this year's bargaining. Automakers want to eliminate a $30 gap in hourly labor costs that puts them at a competitive disadvantage with their Japanese rivals.”

“The key issue is can we have competitive firms and middle-class jobs?"

“Amid shrinking sales and mounting losses, Detroit automakers have cut tens of thousands of jobs since the last round of bargaining in 2003.”

“In an unprecedented move in 2005, the UAW agreed to shoulder more health care costs at GM and Ford because of the companies' financial problems. Under those deals, active workers agreed to give up pay raises to help finance retiree health care while retirees' out-of-pocket expenses increased.”

From Powerless, retirees fear losing benefits:

“Retirees are typically fiercely proud of their auto careers and staunch defenders of the United Auto Workers union. But they are growing increasingly concerned about the fate of their health care coverage and pensions during upcoming contract talks.”

“They will have no vote on a contract that could dramatically overhaul their benefits, known as automakers' legacy costs. And many current workers say they expect to approve a deal in which everyone, including retirees, will have to make sacrifices.”

“The deals slashed $1 billion from GM's retiree health bill and more than $850 million from Ford's.”

"We took benefits instead of wages a lot of times, so our feeling is we've already paid for our benefits. Why should they be able to take it away?"

“With new workers paid far less than their colleagues doing the same job, Chrysler's Belvidere plant may be the future.”


The bottleneck in negotiations follows a settlement between Delphi and its largest union, the United Auto Workers. A bankruptcy court judge Thursday approved that contract, which cuts hourly wages from $27 to between $14 and $18.50.

"The union had allowed temporary workers as a goodwill gesture as long as talks toward an acceptable contract were progressing," Clark said. "Hopefully with this action, progress may improve."

Packard needs the temporary workers because of a large cut in its hourly work force last year. Nearly 3,100 of its 3,800 hourly workers in the Mahoning Valley at the time accepted buyouts and early retirement offers.

From a Bill Koenig article
UAW Chief Stuck Between Reuther Legacy, `Crashing' Car Industry:
“At the same time, Gettelfinger's union is shrinking. UAW membership in December was 538,448, about one-third of its 1.5 million peak in 1979, as GM, Ford and Chrysler have cut jobs while losing U.S. market share. Thousands more members are departing GM and Ford this year in UAW-negotiated buyout programs.”


Anonymous said...

American manufacturing and it's future competitiveness must be based on sharing responsibility. Equity should be sought with both the workers and management aligning compensation and benefits to their results in the market place. Boards likewise need to shre responsibility and be more accountable to the shareholders. Lets quite hiding behind all the excuses and get on with the job of facing challenges in a flat world as a team. R. Mitchell, Ann Arbor

Fred Adelman said...

I agree that the preferable solution is to make the staff partners. But didn’t present that concept because I feel that the companies actually want to move manufacturing and even if they don’t, they would not allow a greater union presence on their boards.

Besides the cost factors, it is no longer advantageous to be an American auto manufacturer.