UAW, GM restart talks to address skilled-trades workers' concerns
DETROIT -- The UAW said today that it has re-entered talks with General Motors on the terms of a tentative four-year labor contract to resolve concerns of skilled-trades workers, who voted down the deal last week despite approval from an overall majority of GM’s union employees.
Union leaders earlier this week visited GM plants across the country to meet with local union officials and skilled-trades workers to get to the bottom of their disapproval. That process wrapped up earlier this week.
“Based on this feedback from the skilled trades membership, I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed. Such discussions are currently taking place,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement issued Friday evening.
Last week, the UAW said the tentative contract that was approved by a majority of GM union workers who voted couldn’t be ratified because the skilled-trades workers -- who represent about 15 percent of GM’s 52,600 UAW-represented employees -- voted it down with a near-60 percent majority.
The UAW’s constitution requires approval by both production and skilled-trades workers. But under the rules, the union can seek to reopen negotiations with GM only if the workers’ objections center on work rules related specifically to the skilled trades -- the elimination of job categories, for example -- rather than on wages, bonuses or other economic aspects of the pact.
Williams’ statement didn’t explain why the skilled-trades employees voted it down or what concerns were aired during this week’s plant visits.
Analysts say the decision by Williams and the union’s International Executive Board to return to GM leaves the union in unchartered territory.
A split vote between production and skilled-trades workers is rare: It happened at Ford in 1973 and again in 2011 when Chrysler’s skilled-trades workers voted down their tentative deal. The UAW ratified the Chrysler contract anyway, after determining that the workers objected to the deal’s broader economic aspects, not to the part of the agreement specific to skilled trades.
“This has never happened before at GM,” Art Schwartz, a labor consultant and former GM negotiator.
Schwartz said GM could agree to revise just the portion of the contract that affects the skilled trades. But he said it’s unlikely that GM would change the terms significantly because the company now has the upper hand, given that a majority of workers voted in favor of the deal.
“The UAW would be in a tough position,” Schwartz said. “What do you do, call a strike after it’s been ratified? The strike option is pretty much off the table at this point, I think.”
Williams’ decision came despite a push by UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada -- head of the union’s GM department -- to ratify the agreement after hearing the skilled-trades workers voice their concerns. During a conference call Thursday, Estrada told local union officials that she was going to ask the board to ratify the tentative agreement, assuring them that many of their objections could be worked out locally, according to two people who were on the call.
Estrada said during the call that the skilled-trades workers’ complaints included a mix of economic issues -- being excluded from a $60,000 retirement buyout offered to some production workers, for example -- and non-economic ones, such as a consolidation of worker classifications that could require expanded duties, the sources said. She said GM has signaled that some of those work-specific issues can be hashed out at the local level, rather than set in stone in the national contract.
“She believes they’ve addressed all the key issues that could hold up” ratification, one of the sources said on Thursday.
Raise for Tier 2
Voting on the UAW’s tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co. started Thursday at some plants. Nearly 53,000 Ford workers will have a chance to vote on the deal through next week.
The GM agreement would establish an eight-year grow-in period for Tier 2 workers, who were hired in recent years and are paid an hourly wage of about $16 to $19, slightly more than half what their Tier 1 counterparts earn. About 20 percent of GM’s 52,600 hourly UAW workers are in the lower-paid Tier 2 category.
Under the unratified contract, new hires would start at $17 an hour and see wage increases each year through the eighth year of employment, when their wage will reach nearly $30. That would match Tier 1 workers, who also are getting their first wage increases in more than a decade: 3 percent raises in the first and third years of the contract, with lump-sum bonuses in the second and fourth years.
GM also committed to spend about $8 billion across 12 U.S. factories over the life of the contract, the union said. That spending should “create and/or retain” more than 3,300 jobs, the UAW said.
The deal also included an $8,000 signing bonus, to be paid in the second pay period after ratification. Workers also would be eligible for lump-sum performance bonuses of $1,000, in addition to an annual $500 bonus if GM hits vehicle-quality targets.
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