Despite tough talk in recent weeks, the UAW may not be Delphi Corp.'s biggest labor headache.
That honor may well go to the International Union of Electrical Workers, which represents 8,500 hourly Delphi employees. In February, the IUE's rank and file authorized a strike and supported the union at well-attended rallies.
So perhaps it's no coincidence that the IUE - arguably the most militant of Delphi's six unions in recent months - would preserve the highest percentage of jobs if Delphi carries out its plan to close most U.S. factories.
Of the eight U.S. factories that Delphi announced on Friday, March 31, that it would keep open, three have an hourly work force represented by the IUE. Those three plants - in Warren, Ohio; and Brookhaven and Clinton, Miss. - employ 5,000 workers.
In an interview the day before the Delphi announcement, Henry
Reichard said his top priority is to save plants and jobs. Reichard, a career unionist who is chairman of the IUE-CWA Automotive Conference Board, could not be reached for comment Friday.
After Delphi entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in October, Reichard's troops adopted a tough stance.
While the UAW relied on negotiations to soften wage concessions demanded by Delphi, the IUE workers responded in February with a strike authorization vote. "In bargaining, the only action that seems to really get a company's attention is a strike vote," Reichard said.
The union's rank and file appears ready to back up the leadership. In February, nearly 8,000 workers, retirees, families and friends attended an IUE rally in Warren, Ohio.
The IUE had shown more flexibility than the UAW in previous labor contracts. An IUE worker earns an average wage of $20 an hour, compared with a UAW worker's $27.
Low Southern wages
Wages are even lower in the South. Production workers represented by the IUE at a Delphi plastics plant in Gadsden, Ala., start at $7.77 an hour and top out at $11 an hour.
By contrast, only a small percentage of the UAW's 33,000 Delphi workers draw an entry-level wage of $14 to $16 an hour - a wage that the UAW accepted as part of a two-tier wage scale in 2004.
Despite the IUE's flexibility on wages, the union's post-Chapter 11 relations with Delphi have been frigid. On Tuesday, March 28,
Reichard angrily chastised Delphi for proposing a new labor contract just one week before asking the bankruptcy court to void existing contracts.
Reichard, who has spent his life in Dayton, Ohio, said he wants observers to view his union as reasonable and responsible. But, he says, he's unwilling to toss aside 50 years of collective-bargaining gains for a quick bankruptcy fix.
If the IUE doesn't like the next Delphi proposal, Reichard says, the union will ask the rank and file for final approval of a strike.
You may e-mail Dave Barkholz at [email protected]