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Contract Talks Drag as Deadline Approaches

Will union dig in for battle at Ford?

by on Sep.07, 2011

Workers on a GM assembly plant in Flint. The domestic giant could be targeted first as contract talks come down to the wire - but a strike is barred by law.

Talks between the United Auto Workers Union and Detroit’s three automakers have slowed in recent days even as workers at Ford voted in favor of a strike and UAW officials brushed aside reports it has elected to focus on General Motors as its target as its contracts expire Sept. 14.

Michele Martin, UAW spokeswoman, said in an e-mail the union had not picked a target to focus on yet after several reports surfaced indicating the union had decided to concentrate on GM in a bid to win a contract that could then be used as a pattern for a settlement with Ford and Chrysler.

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Meanwhile, negotiations with all three automakers are moving slowly, according to those familiar with the talks. Sources at the three automakers indicated the negotiations are bogging down and in places have not gotten much beyond the subcommittee level.

UAW President Bob King, however, said in a television interview over the weekend he thought the talks were going well. The negotiations involve new contracts covering more than 112,000 workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

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Hopes Fading for Quick Settlement in Auto Talks

Two-tier wages could be sticking point.

by on Aug.30, 2011

UAW President King insists the U.S. is not broke.

Chances for a quick and amiable settlement in contract talks between the United Auto Workers Union and Ford Motor Co, General Motors and Chrysler Group appear to be fading as labor and management head towards their Sept. 14th deadline.

Both sides continue to put a positive spin on the pace of talks – at least for public consumption – but sticking points are starting to develop.  The union, for one, is taking an increasing tough tone on the two-tier wage system the Big Three insist they need to stay competitive.  And, the manufacturers warn, that without a sense they can remain on a cost par with their foreign competitors they will need to consider exporting more jobs.

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On the other hand, the makers are also dangling a carrot, suggesting that labor peace could lead to significant job creation in a domestic industry that has seen its job base shrivel over the last several decades.

The two-tier wage debate has spurred angry talk – and some local demonstrations – in recent weeks, though UAW president Bob King continues to insist he is “upbeat” about the prospects for reaching a peaceful resolution.

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Are Ford and the UAW Heading for Confrontation?

Union tallying strike vote as contract deadline nears.

by on Aug.25, 2011

Ford workers assembling the 2012 Focus.

The United Auto Workers Union is tallying up strike votes at Ford Motor Co. plants around the country as contract negotiations between the union and domestic automakers move towards the mid-September deadline.

The UAW is in the midst of talks with all three of the Detroit automakers, but Ford is the only one the union is legally able to strike due to strictures placed by the federal government in the multi-billion-dollar bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler following their 2009 bankruptcies.

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There are clearly some tough issues on the table — especially the unpopular two-tier wage structure that has been rapidly expanded since the industry’s near-collapse.  Nonetheless, both sides are trying to downplay the possibility of a confrontation.

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Auto Talks Begin: Future on the Line for Both Big Three and UAW

Makers must satisfy workers while remaining competitive.

by on Jul.25, 2011

Not this time. The UAW is barred from striking GM and Chrysler and hasn't walked out at Ford in decades.

With smiles and handshakes for the cameras, negotiators for the United Auto Workers Union and Chrysler Corp. will today begin the challenging task of coming up with a new contract for more than 20,000 hourly U.S. autoworkers. Later this week, the situation will repeat itself at both Ford and General Motors.

The scene may be familiar – occurring every three to four years for the last three-quarters of a century – but seldom has so much been riding on the outcome.  Still struggling to emerge from the domestic auto industry’s worst downturn since the Great Depression, the viability of Detroit’s Big Three is a lot less certain than recent profits might suggest.  But the UAW itself has to worry about the future.

Consider Chrysler where there are now about 23,000 UAW-represented workers – a decline of nearly 50,000 in less than a decade.  A recent filing with the federal government revealed total membership dropped to 376,612 at the end of 2010 – including union-represented jobs in non-automotive industries.  The UAW’s ranks peaked in 1979, when it counted 1.53 million dues-paying members.

“The current situation is not sustainable,” warns Harley Shaiken, a long-time student of the UAW and a professor at the University of California – Berkley.

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So, both sides know that their fates may ride on what happens between now and mid-September, when talks are scheduled to wrap up.  The question is whether these negotiations can produce settlements that keep Detroit competitive while also satisfying the workers who will eventually have to approve the agreements.  What we may see, many observers are betting, will be contracts that contain expanded profit-sharing packages that more closely link workers’ remuneration to the health of the automakers than ever before.

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Labor Boss King: UAW is the Union of the 21st Century

Collaboration, not confrontation key, says autoworkers chief.

by on Jun.02, 2011

UAW Pres. Bob King says the union is "reinventing" itself for a new era.

Saying his union is in the midst of “reinventing” itself, United Auto Workers President Bob King strode into the lion’s den, this week, aiming to convince a gathering of Michigan’s most powerful business leaders that the labor movement is not just relevant but useful.

Collaboration, rather than confrontation, has been a key message for King, a one-time fire-breathing orator who has taken a much more laid-back and conciliatory approach since assuming the helm of one of the nation’s most powerful labor organizations last year.

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It was a direction already set by his predecessor, Ron Gettelfinger, who agreed to a series of once-taboo concessions during 2007 contract talks with Detroit’s Big Three, and again during the deep recession that nearly crushed the domestic makers, forcing General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.

“Our union has learned many lessons from this crisis,” King proclaimed, adding that, “We are in the process of reinvesting our union.”

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UAW Will Seek Seats on GM, Ford, Chrysler Boards

Union doesn’t believe VW plant’s low wages set new precedent.

by on May.25, 2011

The UAW will seek to get seats on the boards of all three of the Detroit automakers, according to union president Bob King.

The United Auto Workers is preparing to tell General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC it wants seats on the boards of directors of all three companies during contract negotiations this summer.

UAW president Bob King said he did not want to negotiate through the press, but he said as a “general principle,” union members should have board representation.

“I believe there should be workers’ representation on all boards,” King said, noting workers are routinely given a seat on the boards of German companies by Germany’s codetermination law.

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German employees and unions elect members of what is known as the Board of Supervisors, which has authority to hire and fire top executives. By law, workers hold a minority of seats on the Board of Supervisors, while representatives of shareholders hold the majority of spots.

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UAW May Skip Strike Deadline in Talks With Detroit Big Three

“Creative problem solving” is goal, says union boss Bob King, not confrontation.

by on Apr.26, 2011

The UAW is seeking "creative" solutions, said Pres. Bob King during a meeting with reporters.

The United Auto Workers Union will put the emphasis on “creative problem solving,” rather than confrontation as it reopens contract talks, this summer, with Detroit’s Big Three automakers.

Intent on putting aside the traditional hardball tactics that have defined automotive labor/management relations over the last 75 years, UAW President Bob King said union negotiators may not even set a strike target as they approach their mid-September deadline.  But that would be a limited option anyway, he acknowledged, as terms of the government’s 2009 bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler mean that only Ford could even be threatened with a walkout this year.

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During a meeting of the Detroit Automotive Press Association, the UAW president meanwhile offered both a carrot and a stick to companies like Toyota, who have managed to so far avoid union organizing efforts.  Give workers a fair chance to vote, King promised, and the union will accept the results, win or lose.  But resisting calls for an election, he asserted, could lead to a global boycott.

“Creative problem solving,” said King, “is the ideal we’re both striving for.”  Confrontation, he insisted, was a thing of the past.

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