After granting billions of dollars in concessions to help Detroit makers survive the U.S. auto industry’s worst downturn in decades, union workers are looking for some givebacks when they return to the bargaining table this year. But they may have to share the risks, rather than simply get the enhanced pay and benefits workers could have traditionally expected, observers caution.
The United Auto Workers Union’s senior leaders are gathered in Detroit, this week, to lay out their demands – and work out strategy to go up against makers who are now pushing back into the black while still professing serious financial problems.
The challenge for the UAW’s new President Bob King will be to navigate a narrow path that would make workers happy, keep Detroit’s Big Three healthy – and head off a potential confrontation that could sour what has become the most positive working relationship between labor and management since the union gained a seat at the table, following the angry confrontations of the 1920s and ‘30s.
“It’s not going to be easy for Bob,” said a well-placed union source asking for anonymity prior to the start of the UAW convention. “He clearly understands that the auto companies are not out of the woods. But he also knows he can’t go back to workers and expect them to approve contracts that don’t make up some of their losses.”