DETROIT -- The slogan "No More Tiers" will be on the lips of many of the thousands of UAW delegates trekking to the union's bargaining convention here this week.
They'll be calling for hard limits on -- or even eradication of -- the so-called Tier 2 wages that entry-level workers have been paid since 2007.
The system of paying new hires roughly half the wages and benefits of the UAW's Tier 1 legacy workers is partly responsible for the addition of some 25,000 jobs. But it is anathema to the union's core values of equality and solidarity.
Analysts and other industry sources interviewed by Automotive News, however, say the outcome of the negotiations could just as readily find the Tier 1 system in jeopardy rather than the Tier 2. The UAW contracts with the Detroit 3 expire in September.
The Detroit 3 see the expansion of the entry-level wage system as key to achieving labor-cost parity with their Asian rivals eventually.
This year's talks are likely to highlight how Tier 2 -- long viewed by the UAW rank and file as a stopgap meant to resuscitate the Detroit 3 from their financial crises -- has become cemented into the system, even as the automakers are flush with profits.
In fact, there are almost 40,000 Tier 2 workers now, accounting for 29 percent of the three companies' 137,000 hourly jobs. Tier 2 workers make up 42 percent of the UAW membership at Fiat Chrysler, 29 percent at Ford Motor Co. and 20 percent at General Motors.
Industry analyst Kristin Dziczek sees the tiers basically merging within the next two contract cycles as Tier 1 workers retire and Tier 2 workers grow in number and receive higher wages. Dziczek is director of the industry and labor group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"Over the next eight years, we won't even be talking about tiers," Dziczek said.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has been outspoken on the point. Like union leaders, Marchionne says he's philosophically opposed to paying workers widely different wages for the same work.
At the Detroit auto show in January, he called the practice "impossible" and "almost offensive," saying he wanted to freeze the number of Tier 1 workers at FCA US and raise compensation for Tier 2 based on the company's profits.