UAW explores why GM skilled trades rejected labor pact

The GM-UAW agreement would establish an eight-year grow-in period for Tier 2 workers, who were hired in recent years and are paid an hourly wage of about $16-$19, slightly more than half that of their Tier 1 counterparts. Photo credit: GM

DETROIT -- UAW leaders began fanning out to General Motors plants today for meetings with skilled-trades workers, whose objection to the terms of a new four-year contract has held up the pact’s ratification despite approval by a majority of the company’s work force.

The union on Friday said that the tentative agreement reached with GM on Oct. 25 has not been ratified despite winning 55 percent support by production and skilled-trades workers combined. The UAW’s constitution requires passage by both classes of workers for ratification.

UAW leaders must now determine the reasons why nearly 60 percent of skilled-trades employees voted down the tentative contract before taking next steps. They include electricians, mechanics and other more-senior workers with specialized skills who do not work on the assembly line.

Skilled-trades workers account for about 8,500 of the 52,600 UAW employees who would be covered under the tentative contract.

The union’s leadership could override the rejection and deem the agreement ratified if they determine that skilled-trades workers voted it down based on the broader terms of the deal, such as wages or benefits. For example, there have been some gripes on social media that skilled-trades workers aren’t eligible for a $60,000 retirement buyout that is included in the contract for up to 4,000 production workers.

When Chrysler’s skilled-trades workers voted down their tentative deal in 2011, the UAW ratified the contract anyway, after determining that they objected to the deal’s broader economic aspects, not to the part of the agreement specific to skilled trades.

But if the UAW determines that GM’s skilled-trades workers voted down the deal based on specific issues -- such as the elimination of certain job classifications -- then the options for UAW President Dennis Williams become murky, says Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“They could have another vote. Or they could go back to the table. But GM might not want to go back to the table,” Dziczek said. “There’s really not a clear path to follow at that point.”

Dziczek said union leaders will try to determine the reasons for opposition by talking to local union officials and workers at the plants, reviewing social media posts or even looking at the fliers that had been posted in the plants ahead of the vote.

In a statement Friday, the UAW said its leadership would hold meetings with skilled-trades members “at each work site over the next several days in order to determine what reason(s) they had for rejection of the tentative agreement.” After that, the union’s executive board will “determine what appropriate steps shall be taken.”

That process, though, “cannot change aspects of the agreement which are common to all members,” which includes wage increases and signing bonuses.

GM, in a statement, declined to address the rejection of the pact by skilled-trades workers.

“General Motors is pleased that a majority of UAW-represented employees recognize the benefits of the 2015 UAW-GM national agreement and voted in favor of it,” the company said.

The GM agreement would establish an eight-year grow-in period for Tier 2 workers, who were hired in recent years and are paid an hourly wage of about $16-$19, slightly more than half that of their Tier 1 counterparts. About 20 percent of GM’s 52,600 hourly UAW workers fall under the lower-paid, Tier 2 wage scale.

Under the unratified contract, new hires would start at $17 an hour and see wage increases each year through the eighth year of employment, when their hourly wage will reach nearly $30. That would match Tier 1 workers, who also are getting their first wage increases in more than a decade: 3 percent raises in the first and third years of the contract, with lump-sum bonuses in the second and fourth years.

GM also committed to spend about $8 billion across 12 U.S. facilities over the life of the contract, the union said. That spending should “create and/or retain” more than 3,300 jobs, the UAW said.

The deal, which would have taken effect immediately, also included an $8,000 signing bonus, to be paid in the second pay period after ratification. Workers also would be eligible for lump-sum performance bonuses of $1,000, in addition to an annual $500 bonus if GM hits vehicle-quality targets.

You can reach Mike Colias at autonews@crain.com

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