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UAW chief sets firm stance for 2007 contract talks

DETROIT -- The head of the United Auto Workers said on Tuesday the union has no intention of backing down in negotiations with automakers in 2007 and said talks with bankrupt parts maker Delphi Corp. were stalled.

"The battle with Delphi is far from over," UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said in an online question and answer session with union members.

"Our union has been available to meet with the corporation at any time, day or night, but honestly, at this time there has been very little discussion," Gettelfinger said, adding that Delphi would have to meet with the union eventually.

Gettelfinger also signaled a tough line on upcoming contract talks with the Detroit-based automakers, saying the union had no intention of making concessions in a round of negotiations crucial for the embattled U.S. auto industry.

"It's too early to predict the outcome of any negotiations but it is not our intent to go backwards in the (2007) bargaining," he said.

Though some observers have said the union might shift away from its past practice of pattern-bargaining with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, Gettelfinger told rank-and-file members he would seek a standard four-year contract after identifying a "lead" company to target in August.

Current UAW contracts with automakers expire in September.

Gettelfinger also said when asked that the UAW would seek to preserve a controversial "jobs bank" program under which factory workers are eligible for nearly full pay and benefits even after their jobs have been eliminated.

"Why would you think anything else?" he said.

DELPHI IN FOCUS

Gettelfinger said more negotiations were needed to clinch a three-way deal between the union, Delphi and GM, something seen as essential for GM's turnaround.

His view of Delphi marked a contrast to more optimistic comments by GM, which has cited progress in Delphi talks necessary to avoid a crippling strike. GM spun Delphi off in 1999 and the former parts unit remains GM's largest supplier.

Gettelfinger said there had been very little discussion between the union and Delphi recently and that GM management was speaking only about its role in the complicated talks playing out under the supervision of federal bankruptcy court.

Delphi filed for bankruptcy in October 2005 and plans to drop business lines, close U.S. union plants and cut thousands of hourly and salaried workers in an effort to reorganize.

Earlier this month, a bankruptcy judge gave Delphi more time to negotiate a settlement with GM and the unions on issues ranging from U.S. hourly wages to parts contracts.

Pete Hastings, credit market analyst at Morgan Keegan, said Gettelfinger's comments suggested "a bit of posturing" by the UAW. "It seems that he's saying to his constituency that GM needs to come to us," he said, adding that Delphi bankruptcy proceedings indicated some quiet progress in the talks.

MANY TEMPORARY WORKERS TO BECOME PERMANENT

In one development, Gettelfinger said the union had reached a deal with Delphi to allow temporary workers hired at its U.S. factories to become permanent employees, with restrictions.

More than 20,000 union workers accepted early retirement or buyout offers to leave Delphi, or more than 60 percent of its U.S. union hourly workforce at the time of the bankruptcy.

Delphi in March moved for court authority to reject thousands of parts contracts with GM and labor contracts with unions if it could not reach agreements.

"We continue to be engaged with all of the unions, as well as GM and the statutory committees on resolving our issues in a consensual fashion," Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams said, declining to address the comments made by the UAW chief.

GM's president for North America, Troy Clarke, said it was tough to forecast when the Delphi talks would conclude.

"There are a lot of moving parts," he told reporters after a speech to the Detroit Automotive Association on Tuesday.

But GM has been in steady dialogue with the UAW for "quite some time," he said. "The real key to labor relations is we are talking all the time."

Fitch Ratings Managing Director Mark Oline said he would not be surprised if labor talks ran into 2007, given the scope of issues including plant shutdowns.

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