Jobs Bank under fire
Pundits and editorialists have beat a steady drum over the past several months that in the next master contracts, the UAW would have to give up such sacrosanct benefits as the Jobs Bank. The program pays laid-off workers nearly full wages and benefits to come to a plant and not work.
General Motors alone has about 7,500 people in its Jobs Bank. GM expects that number to decline with its recent buyout and early-retirement program. Each person costs the company about $100,000 a year, or about $750 million at current levels.
The past year has been painful for Shoemaker -- who, as head of the GM bargaining department, first negotiated new retiree co-pays to help the struggling automaker save $1 billion in annual health care costs.
He also has been able to do little to stop Delphi Corp. from dismantling its U.S. operations through Chapter 11 reorganization, except negotiate early retirements and buyouts for the 23,000 UAW-represented workers at the former GM parts operation.
But new concessions aren't even in the UAW's vocabulary right now. That includes the Jobs Bank.
Guy Barger, president of UAW Local 685, said preservation of the Jobs Bank and other benefits is his top concern in the upcoming master negotiations.
"Most auto workers will honestly tell you that they make enough money," said Barger, whose local represents UAW workers at Chrysler in Kokomo, Ind. "It's our benefits that mean more to us than anything."
Wages of UAW-represented auto workers average about $28 an hour.
Barger said he approves of the decision to shift $110 million from the UAW's $925 million strike fund to finance more organizing and education. "We've lost a lot of membership, and this is a way to compete," he said.
As a consequence of lost Big 3 market share, the UAW's membership has fallen over the past five years from 715,621 in 2000 to 598,648 at the end of 2005. Twenty years ago, membership was 1.16 million.
In his opening speech to convention delegates last week, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the union intended to target for organizing Honda, Nissan, Toyota and other foreign-owned automakers operating in the United States.
"We have not given up, and we don't intend to," Gettelfinger said. "We're trying new approaches, some subtle and others not so subtle, at each location to reach out to workers in all those plants."
UAW dissident Gregg Shotwell, a delegate at the convention, said concessions hurt organizing. Shotwell, a production worker at Delphi's Coopersville, Mich., fuel-injector plant, said unorganized workers aren't going to join a union that can't even defend the wages, benefits and rights of current members and retirees.
Said Shotwell: "It won't matter if the UAW spends $100 million or a $1 billion on organizing if it can't offer nonunion workers what they need."
Jamie LaReau contributed to this report
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