Gm Contract Ratification Creates Momentum in the Uaw

By: Evander Klum

Although United Auto Workers union locals have backed the GM contract, momentum is building along its ratification process. The contract must be voted upon by the more than 73,000 General Motors workers represented by the union after it reached the tentative settlement with America's top auto maker last week ending a two-day nationwide strike.

Like any other voting, the majority of the workers must vote on accepting the deal for its complete ratification and the union expects that on October 10, the deal will be absolutely sanctioned. After the GM deal, the UAW will also be dealing with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC either separately or simultaneously as said by the UAW chief, Ron Gettelfinger.

Although the exact figures are not available, there had been at least seven locals who had completely voted for the contract this week representing more than 10,000 workers.

The GM-UAW contract would entail the automaker to set a second-tier lower wage for workers who are not involved in direct production of GM products and the VEBA, or Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, a retiree health care trust fund controlled by the union. It also includes making the 3,000 temporary workers permanent and will permit buyouts. The deal also provisions a quarter of the workers to be replaced by new hires under lower costs.

The members at UAW local 31 at a GM assembly plant near Kansas City, Kan. voted 56 percent for the deal and at UAW local 594 in Pontiac, Michigan, the tentative agreement gained 58 percent approval. The two facilities represented lower support than other UAW locals.

"It will be a good agreement," UAW Local 31 President Jeff Manning said in a telephone interview, he also added that his members are bothered by the core and non-core job classifications that are still being worked out. Also according to Manning, the turn-out was good among the 2,400 to 2,500 eligible workers.

In UAW Local 5960 in Lake Orion, Mich. the pact was backed by 70 percent of the production workers and 62 percent of the skilled trade workers. The Michigan based local represents 2,700 active UAW workers and 620 of which are 620 temporary workers.

"Some people are happy about it because they will take the buyouts and retire," said Local 5960 President Pat Sweeney. The local chief also said that most members are also not happy about the new hire provisions of the contract as it limits the availability of jobs in the higher wage level.

The 5960 local is in a GM assembly plant producing Pontiac G6 whose sedan version is a fierce competitor of the BMW 3 series (like the BMW 330xi with BMW 330xi parts) sedans, Infinity and Volkswagen GTI. The plant was not included in the 16 facilities that GM committed with future products but Sweeney said that their focus was on the contract. The automaker told Sweeney that what they are doing will eventually get the plant new products.

According to Bill Jordan, president for UAW local 599, his workers are unhappy with the second-tier wage provision of the contract but he regarded the deal as the lesser of two evils and when given certain circumstances, phenomenal. "Given the economy and GM's financial condition, I'm shocked they could come up with a contract like this." Jordan said.

For Debi Kirchner, recording secretary for UAW local 598, the tentative agreement under ratification preserved jobs although it has second-tier wage system provisions. Kirchner had worked for the automaker for 32 years.

"I'm glad we are keeping jobs in North America, the two-tier wage system is a concern for many members, but they have to realize that those non-core jobs GM could have just outsourced," Kirchner said.

The deal's VEBA provision gained different views from the retirees.

"I think it's very good that the union will now be in control over the health care," said Dennis Martin, Local 599 retiree in Flint who retired from GM three years ago after nearly 40 years of working in the automaker.

"I feel very secure because otherwise our health care would be negotiated in every contract in the future, now it's done," Martin said.

Douglas Flowers, 64, retired 15 years ago after 30 years at GM, also liked the VEBA plan.

"They have got to do better than GM did," Flowers said.

Roy Meade, 81, who worked for 32 years at GM and retired 28 years ago, has misgivings about the contract and the VEBA.

"I don't like the idea of the union running our health care," Meade said.

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