DETROIT -- UAW President Dennis Williams said longtime auto workers deserve a wage increase after going without one for nearly a decade.
But he said the UAW recognizes that whatever is negotiated must help to keep the Detroit 3 wage structure competitive with Toyota, Honda and other nonunion rivals in the South.
"We have to keep in mind that we want to keep the companies competitive," Williams said. "But at the same time, we want our members to have a lifestyle to maintain a family life."
He spoke at a year-end press conference last week. The current UAW contracts with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler expire in September.
He said the UAW also will try to narrow the pay gap between the so-called legacy workers and new hires, also known as Tier 2 workers. They earn about $16 an hour today for doing the same work as legacy workers who earn nearly twice that amount.
The Detroit 3 have about 138,000 workers represented by the UAW, nearly 25 percent of whom are Tier 2.
The Detroit 3 prefer that their fixed labor costs not rise in the form of pay raises, said Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The flexibility of improved profit-sharing that the UAW won in the last round of talks rewards workers in good times and protects the automakers in a downturn, Cole said.
"They know every year is not going to be a good year," Cole said.
Williams said at the press conference at the UAW headquarters that auto workers received an average of $4 an hour in compensation from the profit-sharing. The regular wage of legacy workers is about $28 per hour, excluding benefits.
Williams said the union never goes into bargaining expecting a strike. It's used as a last resort and reflects a failure of both parties to do their jobs, he said. The UAW strikes only in about 2 percent of UAW negotiations, he added.
That said, the UAW is rebuilding its strike fund that had dipped to about $600 million from about $930 million in 2006, in part, because of spending for union organizing campaigns.