DETROIT -- UAW Vice President Bob King, the union's top official handling supplier issues, said negotiations with troubled steel parts maker Tower Automotive are continuing, but he declined to say if any progress is being made.
Tower, mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since February 2005, has sought court approval to void its union contracts. Negotiations between the company and its unions have been ongoing for several months. Nine of Tower's unionized plants have already approved strike votes if the court voids the contracts.
"I'm a negotiator, so I'm always optimistic," King told reporters following a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank Detroit Branch on Wednesday. "The bargaining is dynamic, so I can't comment at this point. I'm just happy we're talking."
In his speech, King struck a conciliatory note towards automakers and suppliers.
"We've taken the high road approach in working with corporations," he said. "In partnership with suppliers, we've made the choice to abandon adversarial agreements. Adversarial agreements drive jobs out of this country.
"We've signed no-strike, no lockout agreements," he said. The union is willing to adopt flexible work rules and use binding arbitration to sort out disputes, he said.
He said UAW workers would compete with any workers anywhere in producing parts low cost. He cited batteries made by unionized workers at Johnson Controls Inc. as an example.
"We can produce batteries cheaper than Mexico, cheaper than China, cheaper than anywhere," he said.
Tower debts caused problem
King said Tower's problems at Tower were not caused by high labor costs, but by debt piled up by the company's previous management team. He said the UAW is willing to help the company, but ultimately it's the workers' decision.
"We're willing to share in the pain, but also share in some of the gain when things improve," he said.
Tower has said it needs concessions to restructure and get out of bankruptcy court. Those include wage concessions of up to 23 percent. Tower has 12,000 employees in 60 plants on four continents.
On other questions, King said:
- the UAW still has a good working relationship with Dana Corp., the Toledo, Ohio-based driveline products giant that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 3. He didn't anticipate the company would ask the court to void labor contracts.
- he expects to resolve a disagreement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers over which union can organize the Mercedes assembly plant in Vance, Ala. The UAW has attempted to organize the plant in recent years, but the IAM has recently launched an organizing effort of its own.
The AFL-CIO is expected to rule on the dispute this month. "We have a good relationship with the IAM," King said. "We disagree on this, but we'll resolve it."
King wouldn't comment on any questions relating to ongoing negotiations between Delphi Corp., the UAW and General Motors.
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