June 19, 2024

U.A.W. Open to More Jobs At a Second-Tier Pay Level

The official, Joe Ashton, a vice president in charge of the U.A.W.’s dealings with General Motors, said creating jobs was a priority for the union entering this fall’s negotiations with the three Detroit carmakers.

“We will look at anything, when it comes to negotiations, that will retain jobs,” Mr. Ashton said. “The most important thing going into this set of negotiations is jobs.”

He said the union would ask G.M. to reopen plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Janesville, Wis., and to keep operating a plant in Shreveport, La., that is scheduled to shut in mid-2012. He said the Spring Hill and Janesville plants, which G.M. placed on standby status as part of its bankruptcy reorganization in case more production capacity was needed in the future, had a “great” chance at being revived but that he was not so sure about Shreveport’s prospects.

G.M.’s vice president for labor relations, Cathy Clegg, said the company would reopen the two standby plants if needed but that it had enough capacity to meet current demand.

“Absolutely, we would like to be able to have demand for our products be such that we’ll be able to turn those plants back on,” Ms. Clegg said.

Mr. Ashton and Ms. Clegg said G.M. already was planning to call back all of the approximately 2,000 workers on layoff status by year’s end and would undoubtedly need to hire some additional workers, but they declined to say how many or where.

They spoke to reporters after a training demonstration at G.M.’s Orion assembly plant, which is preparing to build a pair of subcompact cars, the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano, later this year. G.M. considered closing the plant, located north of Detroit, but reversed course after the U.A.W. agreed to a deal that allows 40 percent of its 1,550 hourly workers to be paid about half as much as the others.

G.M. said the arrangement was necessary so it could profitably build such small, inexpensive cars in the United States, something none of its competitors do. The deal expands on a 2007 provision in the U.A.W.’s contracts with G.M., the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group that allows newly hired workers to earn about $14 an hour instead of the standard rate of about $28.

No current workers have been moved down to the lower tier, and Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who specializes in labor relations, said he expected the union to prevent that from happening because it would anger the membership.

The two-tier wage system was controversial within the union when it was created, but comments by Mr. Ashton and by the U.A.W.’s president, Bob King, last week, signaled that the union was increasingly embracing it as a means of creating jobs.

“The U.A.W. leaders clearly do not like the two-tier wage,” Mr. Shaiken said. “But they view the creation of domestic jobs as urgent. I think the tradeoff they’re looking at is that it is far easier to raise that wage in future negotiations than to reopen plants that have been permanently shuttered.”

At a convention of union leaders from across the United States in Detroit last week, Mr. King acknowledged his opposition to two-tier wages but suggested that the union would not press for its elimination anytime soon.

He noted that, because workers on the second tier can be moved to the first when positions open up, the system can encourage automakers to bring some work in-house that had been done by suppliers or in other countries. The Chevrolet Aveo, which the Michigan-built Sonic will replace, is imported from South Korea.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0e7aaf2304217bb5f96e63fa6cff8faf

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