December 5, 2019

Andrew M. Kramer, Leading Labor Lawyer, Dies at 67

Andrew M. Kramer, a lawyer who handled dozens of labor disputes for major corporations and helped old-line manufacturers figure out how to cope with crushing health care costs for retirees, died on Nov. 21 at his home in Potomac, Md. He was 67.

The cause was cancer, said his law firm, Jones Day. .

General Motors, Westinghouse Electric and the Boston Red Sox were among the many prominent companies that turned to Mr. Kramer as a wily, patient labor negotiator who knew how to sort through emotionally charged issues to reach a settlement with union leaders.

“Andy was a problem solver,” said Ron Bloom, who served as President Obama’s senior counselor on manufacturing policy and had been a top negotiator for the United Steelworkers. “Oftentimes in labor relations, there can be a decent amount of bluster and threatening and jumping up and down and macho. Andy just wasn’t into that. Andy was into sitting down and figuring out where the deal was.”

Mr. Kramer was a leading architect of a new financial mechanism that has helped save many manufacturing companies from extinction. As companies like General Motors and Goodyear faced outsize liabilities for their retirees’ health care, corporate officials began fearing huge losses and bankruptcy unless they found a way to reduce those liabilities. Some of these companies had three times as many retirees as workers.

“Many of these companies have legacy costs which constitute balance sheet and survival issues,” Mr. Kramer said in a 2006 interview with the publication Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. “The ratio of active workers to retirees today is the opposite of what it was 30 years ago. As a consequence we are negotiating and strategizing on billions of dollars of liability. Our efforts in this regard will determine the future of some of these enterprises. It is an interesting time to be a labor lawyer.”

With General Motors, Goodyear and other companies, Mr. Kramer worked with unions, actuaries and corporate officials to help the companies shed many of those obligations by creating a trust, known as a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA), into which many companies injected cash, stock holdings or both to finance retiree health coverage, while limiting their future liabilities.

Mr. Kramer often engaged in tense negotiations over how much companies would contribute and how much retirees’ health coverage would be rolled back. When he worked with General Motors and the United Automobile Workers, G.M. agreed to contribute $35 billion to its VEBA.

In 2007, American Lawyer magazine called Mr. Kramer “the undisputed king of VEBA law.”

Andrew Michael Kramer was born in Manhattan on Nov. 2, 1944. He grew up in Detroit, where his father was a lawyer. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1966 and from the Northwestern University School of Law in 1969.

He went to work for the law firm Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago, although he took a leave in 1973 and 1974 to serve as executive director of the Illinois Office of Collective Bargaining, helping draft an executive order giving many of that state’s workers the right to bargain.

In 1983 he joined Jones Day, where he became head of its employment law practice and later of its worldwide client affairs.

Also in 1983, he married Nita Albert, who survives him, as do a son, Howard; three daughters, Jennifer Lukowski and Stephanie and Samantha Kramer; and four grandchildren.

George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said that at a time when numerous governors and companies were challenging the institution of collective bargaining, “Andy stood out as one of the main management-side opponents of that approach. He advised a lot of corporations on how to accommodate strongly competing interests and get to an agreement. That’s what Andy’s forte was.”

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U.A.W. Shelves Chrysler Talks and Turns to Ford

After the U.A.W. announced a tentative contract with General Motors last week, it was widely expected to focus on Chrysler next with the goal of striking a more lucrative deal with Ford by leaving that company last. Instead, the union announced a four-week extension of the old contract with Chrysler — hours before an earlier extension was set to expire — and then said it was turning its attention to Ford.

“I have just concluded a meeting with President Bob King, and I am proud to announce that we have been chosen as the next department to begin the final stages of negotiations, and not Chrysler as previously speculated,” Jimmy Settles, the U.A.W. vice president in charge of negotiations with Ford, wrote in a message to workers that the union posted on Facebook. Mr. Settles wrote that he is eager “to begin intense discussions with the company and work towards a tentative agreement.”

The delay in reaching a deal with Chrysler follows a critical letter that Chrysler’s chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, sent last week to Mr. King. Mr. Marchionne chided Mr. King for failing to show up to finalize a settlement — Mr. King had chosen to remain in talks with G.M. rather than divide his time between the two companies — and said the two had “failed” workers by not finishing talks before the previous contract was set to expire.

Mr. Marchionne then traveled out of the United States on business but returned to Michigan earlier this week and had been expected to meet with Mr. King. He told reporters in Italy on Monday that he expected a quick resolution to the negotiations and was eager to “get this issue behind us.”

The latest extension with Chrysler expires Oct. 19.

“When one model stalls, you jump in another one that you think will be moving,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor relations at the University of California at Berkeley. “It doesn’t mean that Chrysler is deadlocked; it simply means that there were some unexpected obstacles and the union thought Ford would be more productive.”

Meanwhile, G.M. workers are beginning to vote on their tentative agreement, which includes bonuses totaling $9,000 over four years, larger profit-sharing checks, raises for entry-level workers and new jobs for work that otherwise would have been performed in Mexico.

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