Tuesday, December 2, 2008

UAW considers reopening contracts

Union summons leaders to Detroit as firms give survival plans to Congress today.
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- As Detroit's Big Three are poised to present their business plans to Congress today justifying quick approval of $25 billion in emergency loans, the United Auto Workers has called an emergency meeting in Detroit on Wednesday during which the union could consider reopening its 2007 contracts with the automakers.

Union leaders representing workers at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC plants across the country have been called to Detroit for the session, according to sources familiar with the plan.

One local UAW official who has been invited to the meeting expects the union leaders are going to be asked for their support to reopen the 2007 contracts and to agree to concessions that would help make the automakers financially viable.

The business plans GM, Ford and Chrysler have prepared for Congress include seeking additional givebacks from the UAW as one way to cut costs, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.

A person familiar with one automaker's plan said a variety of topics are being explored. Key issues include reopening the contract, eliminating the controversial jobs bank that still pays workers even when they are laid off, and how much and how quickly the automakers will contribute to a trust fund to be run by the UAW that will take over responsibility for retiree health care beginning in 2010. The health care trust was a key part of the landmark contracts negotiated last year.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was unaware of Wednesday's meeting but was not surprised it was called.

"We truly are in uncharted waters, the stakes are enormous and when you have a situation like that, to lead effectively, you need all the local people aware of the choices and hearing directly from the top leadership what the options are."

Wednesday's meeting was first reported by Bloomberg News.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger was criticized for the jobs bank during congressional hearings last month about giving the automakers federal aid. The number of workers in the programs has been greatly reduced under tougher time restrictions in the 2007 contract but the benefit is derided as a relic of a bygone age that erodes the automakers' ability to compete and that they can no longer afford. Gettelfinger recently said Ford has taken 40,000 workers out since 2005 and GM has removed about 47,000. About 3,500 workers are in the programs today, he said.

"The jobs bank has become the poster boy of what's gone wrong with the industry," Shaiken said. "The union knows it's the reality they have to deal with. To defend the jobs bank is just not done in the current environment."....More

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