Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 15 News List

UAW sets deadline for pact with GM


United Auto Workers president Dennis Williams speaks as General Motors chief executive officer Mary Barra, background left, listens during a ceremony to mark the opening of contract negotiations in Detroit on July 13.

Photo: AP

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union yesterday said that it had set a midnight deadline for General Motors Co to agree to a new four-year contract, setting up a possible strike of GM’s US operations.

The current contract expired at 11:59pm yesterday. The union could have told its 52,700 GM members to walk off their jobs today. However, if the union’s negotiators believe there is progress toward an agreement, the deadline could be postponed.

GM and the union have been in talks since July and have for the past several days intensified negotiations to reach a deal. The UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have a new contract that goes into effect today, while Ford Motor Co has yet to enter intensified talks with the union.

In a statement, GM responded: “We are working with them to address the issues and remain committed to obtaining an agreement that is good for employees and the business.”

GM workers are prepared to strike at the Fort Wayne, Indiana plant that makes profitable GM pickup trucks, local UAW president Brian Hartman said.

“We have everything ready to roll if it comes,” Hartman said, referring to a possible order to strike from UAW president Dennis Williams or Cindy Estrada, UAW vice-president for GM affairs.

Hartman said workers at the Fort Wayne plant were pleased that the Fiat Chrysler deal ratified last week gave a clear path for workers hired after 2007 to reach top pay. However, he said they want it to take four years not eight from hiring to reach top pay, which will be about US$30 per hour by the end of the four-year Fiat Chrysler contract.

“GM being in a different [more profitable] position than Chrysler, our members are looking for a bigger pie, not a bigger piece of the pie,” Hartman said, referring to words of Walter Reuther, UAW president from 1946 to 1970.

In several concessionary contracts with the UAW since 2007, GM has lowered its average labor costs to about US$55 per hour from about US$75 per hour. GM executives have said the company must keep labor costs at a point where they do not threaten GM’s double-digit North American profit margins achieved this year.

The UAW has said “this is our time” to receive remuneration from concessions in 2007 and 2009 that helped GM to survive a bankruptcy in a government-sponsored bailout.

However, GM executives have made clear that its continued health largely depends on its ability to keep labor costs competitive with foreign-owned companies with US plants. The rivals have eroded the No. 1 US automaker’s market share for decades.

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