UAW’s King: No lasting damage in a Ford strike

UAW’s King: No lasting damage in a Ford strike
David Barkholz
Automotive News | August 29, 2011 – 4:10 pm EST

DETROIT — A strike at Ford Motor Co. or arbitration at General Motors and Chrysler Group could be handled without harming the union’s long-term relationship with the affected company, UAW President Bob King said today.

King also said the union has asked for a wage increase for its 112,000 members at the Detroit 3, not just profit-sharing and performance bonuses.

All parties want to avoid a strike or arbitration in this year’s auto talks, he said, but the union had a short strike against GM in 2007 without lasting harm to the union’s ability to work cooperatively with the company afterward.

“I just feel we can do better” than a strike, King said during a press conference after a luncheon speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

Up to today, King has continuously downplayed the possibility of a strike at Ford or arbitration at GM and Chrysler. He said in the past that he didn’t even want to discuss it.

The UAW is in the homestretch with the Detroit 3 to replace four-year labor agreements that expire Sept. 14. King said it was impossible at this point to predict whether any or all of the Detroit 3 would settle contracts with the UAW before the deadline.

The 41,000 UAW members working at Ford could strike the company because they rejected a Ford proposal in 2009 calling for the same type of no-strike provisions that GM and Chrysler workers approved ahead of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.

If the UAW can’t agree to contract terms with GM and Chrysler, any disputes would go to binding arbitration.

King said the current talks are about keeping the Detroit 3 competitive so they can continue to put jobs in the United States while allowing workers to share in the new-found profitability of the carmakers.

The rank-and-file at the Detroit 3, King said, want and deserve a raise. For that reason, the union has proposed an increase.

But King cautioned that that he is most interested in maximizing overall compensation for workers, not necessarily wages. The best route, he said, might be through profit-sharing and performance bonuses and some combination of wage increases and restoration of cost of living allowances.

Only bargaining, however, will determine the best way to achieve that goal without hurting the long-term competitiveness of the Detroit 3 vs. the U.S. transplant operations of the German and Asian automakers.

“There is room because of the current framework to make gains in different areas” and still keep the companies competitive, King said.

Detroit 3 labor negotiators have said they don’t want to pay wage increases because raises would become fixed costs that would be difficult to cut if car sales were to flag.

Hourly workers are clamoring for a raise since they have not had one since 2003. They also want a restoration of COLA lost during the auto recession in 2009.

King also said today finding more money for entry-level workers is crucial in this year’s talks. He said the $14 an hour wage they earn is not enough to live on for families. The $14 an hour is half what traditional UAW auto workers earn and benefits are roughly half as well.

He reiterated that the UAW is not allowing the contract talks to detract from efforts to organize the U.S. transplants. He said he was optimistic that at least one of the transplants would accept the UAW by the end of the year.

Those U.S. operations of international automakers are non-union and located predominantly in right-to-work states.

King: A short strike in 2007 didn’t damage relations with GM

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