UAW fights to keep free legal services

February 17, 2009

UAW fights to keep free legal services

Benefit remains, for now, in talks with Ford

BY BRENT SNAVELY
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Free legal services — a benefit cherished and used by three out of four autoworkers — have so far been preserved in talks between Ford Motor Co. and the UAW, a person familiar with the negotiations told the Free Press.

The two sides are discussing ways to help Ford, which posted a record $14.6-billion loss in 2008.

The UAW declined to comment, and the head of its legal services operation could not be reached late Monday. Ford declined to comment.

Established in 1978, the UAW Legal Services Plan provides "personal legal services" to about 725,000 workers, spouses and retirees from several companies, according to the program’s Web site. It is the largest prepaid legal services program in the country.

The program employs 290 attorneys and fully covers some legal services, such as personal bankruptcies, and partially covers others.

As the economy has worsened, usage of the program "has increased considerably," according to a summary of a meeting between the UAW and Ford, which was sent to UAW locals by the National Ford Council in December.

Three out of four autoworkers have used the legal services for a variety of purposes. In 2008, the letter said, that included:

 

  • Bankruptcy assistance: 9,392 UAW members, including 2,938 Ford members.

     

     

  • Divorce assistance: 6,899 members, including 1,924 Ford members.

     

     

  • Foreclosure assistance: 2,973, including 821 Ford members.

     

     

  • Real estate: 27,000, including 6,265 Ford members.

     

    The program is funded by the automakers based on the number of hours worked by UAW members. Companies that offer the benefit include Ford, GM, Chrysler, Delphi Corp. and American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc.

    Fully covered legal services include residential real estate, wills, adoption, personal bankruptcy, probate proceedings and consumer debt.

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