UAW wants to deal with Big 3 all at once

April 27, 2011

UAW wants to deal with Big 3 all at once

Union’s new strategy seeks to end pattern bargaining of past

/ The Detroit News

Detroit — The United Auto Workers hopes to negotiate a new contract with all three Detroit automakers at once — breaking a long tradition in which the union targets one company for a deal and then replicates the agreement with the other two.

UAW President Bob King said Tuesday he wants to avoid picking a target company when contract talks start this summer. The union’s four-year agreements with Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC expire Sept. 14.

“We have very advanced and good relationships and we should be able to work together,” King said at an Automotive Press Association luncheon in Detroit. “I would hope we don’t have to pick a target.”

The union hasn’t made a final decision; leaders are meeting next week to discuss strategy.

Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said the auto industry has changed so much, “there is no longer a conventional approach.”

Creating and preserving as many jobs as possible will be a top priority in this round of contract talks, Shaiken said, and “that’s not going to require a target company to achieve.”

The union has made no commitment to settle the negotiations ahead of the deadline. “There are a lot of problems and a lot of issues to work through so I don’t know if it would be realistic to think that anything would get done early,” King said.

This year’s negotiations will present the UAW with some unique challenges.

Workers at neither Chrysler nor GM can strike on wages and benefits. The UAW accepted that concession, among others, in 2009 when the U.S. government mandated that GM and Chrysler renegotiate their 2007 UAW contracts as they restructured.

The union made major sacrifices to ensure the automakers’ survival; reversing them now could hurt the companies’ ability to remain competitive.

But persuading workers to accept the givebacks for another four years could prove tricky with the industry rebounding and with big profits for Ford and GM grabbing headlines.

The $26.5 million pay package awarded to Ford CEO Alan Mulally for 2010 could “harm” Ford’s reputation among workers and complicate labor talks, King said. “Alan Mulally is a good CEO,” he said. “I think he has done a lot of good, but he has a blind spot.”

The UAW continues its drive to organize factories operated by foreign automakers in the South and is asking leaders at these so-called “transplant” factories to allow workers to vote on whether they want to join the union.

King said the companies have been more responsive than expected and the UAW is not likely to pick a target, at least right now. “We’re trying to achieve results through a high road, so I hope we never have to pick a target.”

Separately, King said Fiat SpA’s expected takeover of Chrysler could benefit the UAW’s health care trust, used to pay retiree health care costs. The union gave up some cash payments from Chrysler to fund the trust for a 59 percent stake in the automaker as part of its restructuring.

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