UAW rallies for wages

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

UAW rallies for wages

Workers seek benefit, pay changes

Louis Aguilar and Christina stolarz / The Detroit News

WARREN — More than 250 supporters of the United Auto Workers rallied here Tuesday, one of the many Michigan communities that would be slammed to the core if one of Detroit’s Big Three fails.

In this city of 139,000, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC employ more than 20,000, local officials estimate. At least another 3,000 jobs are directly connected to the auto industry through more than a dozen suppliers, seven GM and Chrysler dealerships and a major ad agency, they say. And every auto job supports another three non-auto jobs, according to economists.

That is apocalyptic math for Warren, the state’s third-largest city.

"Fifteen percent of our city general fund and 15 percent of our city water and sewer budget comes from Chrysler and GM taxes," said Warren Mayor Jim Fouts at the "Stand Up for American Workers and Products Rally" at Warren City Hall. "Any disruption of these funds would most certainly result in layoffs of public safety personnel."

While the failure of Chrysler or GM is the worst-case scenario for Warren and the rest of southeast Michigan, the pay cuts and other drastic concessions demanded by federal loans propping up the automakers also could hurt autoworkers — and the towns they live in.

GM and Chrysler are by far the two biggest taxpayers in this Macomb County city, with five GM or Chrysler suppliers also among the city’s top 20 taxpayers. Warren is home to GM’s Tech Center, which employs more than 16,000. Chrysler’s Dodge truck assembly plant here employs 2,800.

The automakers and the United Auto Workers are negotiating changes to the labor contract to meet terms of the $17. 4 billion federal loan. Like many UAW supporters, Fouts urged the Obama White House and the incoming Congress to change the deal, particularly wage and benefit cuts for UAW workers.

Ford Motor Co. assembly line worker Brian Pannebaker, 49, was one of the organizers of the Warren rally. "I bring home about $900 a week. I got two kids and one is going to head off to college next year. I’ve got a mortgage payment," Pannebaker said. "I’m not ashamed to cash my check; I tell you what, I work my butt off."

Under the terms of the federal loans, GM and Chrysler have until Feb. 17 to make changes in their national labor agreements that will bring UAW wages more in line with foreign auto plants in the United States. GM and Chrysler need to include those concessions as part of restructuring plans they must submit to the government by March 31. If the deadline is not met, the loans could be called.

Any concessions must be approved by UAW rank-and-file members like Pannebaker.

Ford Americas President Mark Fields told Wall Street analysts Tuesday night that Ford could break even faster if it gets new concessions from the union. The company told Congress it expects to be back in the black by 2011.

"It basically assumes the contract we have with the UAW," Fields said. "Clearly, if some of those elements change, it will be a benefit to the business."

Florence Katroscik, 60, of Center Line held a sign throughout the rally that read "Cutting wages won’t solve Detroit’s 3 Crisis."

The retired UAW GM worker said she understands the UAW has to open the contracts for the workers. "But if we keep cutting wages, the roll-down effect is everybody spending less and that would kill too many businesses. People would lose their homes. They work hard, this isn’t the solution," she said.

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