DETROIT -- UAW Vice President Bob King, the union's top official handling supplier issues, said the union is willing to help Tower Automotive Inc. in its ongoing bankruptcy restructuring.
"We're willing to share in the pain, but also share in some of the gain when things improve," King told reporters last week in Detroit.
He said negotiations with the troubled steel-parts maker are continuing but declined to say whether progress is being made.
Wants contracts voided
Tower, mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings since February 2005, has sought court approval to void its union contracts. Negotiations between the Novi, Mich., company and its unions have been continuing for several months. Nine of Tower's unionized plants have approved strike votes if the U.S. Bankruptcy Court voids the contracts.
"I'm a negotiator, so I'm always optimistic," King said after a speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago's Detroit branch.
"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 toward 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."
The union is willing to adopt flexible work rules and use binding arbitration to sort out disputes, King said.
UAW workers, he said, would compete with any workers anywhere in producing parts at a low cost. King 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 were caused not by high labor costs but by debt piled up by the previous management team. He said the UAW is willing to help the company, but ultimately it is the workers' decision.
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, driveline-products giant that filed for Chapter 11 March 3. He didn't expect the company to 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-Benz assembly plant in Vance, Ala. The UAW has tried to organize the plant in past years, but the Machinists union recently launched an organizing effort of its own.
"We disagree on this, but we'll resolve it."
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