DETROIT -- UAW President Dennis Williams said today that 2015 contract negotiations with the Detroit 3 must address a wage increase for long-time autoworkers and efforts to move new-hire compensation closer to that of legacy workers.
Williams, who held a year-end UAW news conference in Detroit, said he’s not contemplating a strike in September when the union’s Detroit 3 contracts expire. But the union is rebuilding its strike fund just in case, he said.
The fact is that the UAW hardly ever strikes -- only in 2 percent of negotiations, Williams said. Strikes present a hardship for members, he said, and represent a failure on the part of all parties involved.
“That’s not who we are,” Williams said.
He said he understands rank-and-file discontent with wages. Veteran workers have not had a wage increase in more than 10 years, though a profit-sharing system sweetened in negotiations three years ago has yielded about $4 an hour in increases, Williams said. Legacy workers receive about $28 an hour in wages.
New hires, also known as tier-two laborers, get slightly more than half that much. Williams said that disparity needs to be narrowed. And the Detroit 3, profiting from pre-recession auto sales, are in a position to pay for those gains.
“Two-tier wages are not acceptable to me,” Williams said.
He said he understands how the heavy use of temporary workers at the non-union auto plants in the South has put downward pressure on wages.
He said the Detroit 3 have to remain competitive on wages while rivals such as Nissan use low-cost temporaries that they can jettison when they aren’t needed.
That’s another reason why bringing union representation to those plants can boost wages across the industry, Williams said.
Volkswagen of America’s assembly plant in Chattanooga this month recognized UAW Local 42 as representatives for more than 45 percent of the 1,500 workers there -- though it cannot bargain collectively on their behalf.
The UAW also has opened a union local for workers at Mercedes assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
He said tier-two UAW members are different from so-called “perma-temps” at Nissan and other plants because they can benefit from collective bargaining on wages, benefits, work hours and health and safety.