February 25, 2021

U.A.W. Urges Automakers to Raise Entry-Level Pay in New Labor Deal

The U.A.W.’s president, Bob King, said on Monday that the union had made a formal proposal for an increase in the $14-an-hour wage for entry-level workers, also known as second-tier employees. Full U.A.W. wages are about $28 an hour. “We are very concerned about the entry-level member having a higher standard of living,” Mr. King told reporters after a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

The entry-level jobs were created in 2007, when the companies negotiated their current contracts, which expire on Sept. 14. Only about 3 percent — or fewer than 4,000 workers — of the 112,000 union workers employed by the Big Three automakers are paid the lower wage.

But Mr. King said he was mindful of the need to improve the second-tier wages as part of a broader effort to win gains from the Detroit companies, which are now healthy financially.

He stopped short of saying that the union had asked General Motors, Ford and Chrysler for any base-pay hikes or cost-of-living adjustments for its full-paid workers.

“What we have to do is figure out how we raise income in whatever way is possible, whether it’s cost of living or base wage or profit sharing,” Mr. King said.

Executives at the auto companies have indicated a willingness to improve profit-sharing formulas to avoid across-the-board pay increases that add long-term structural costs.

It would be difficult, however, for the companies to resist a specific wage increase for entry-level employees, analysts predicted.

“The lower tier is only slightly above eligibility for food stamps if you have a family,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s the working poor rather than the middle class.”

Over all, Mr. King described the tenor of negotiations as “upbeat,” and reiterated previous pledges that the union did not want to cripple Detroit’s comeback with an onerous contract.

“We are committed to the long-term success of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler,” he said. “The facts are that our companies face a lot competition.”

The negotiations traditionally accelerate after Labor Day, and the union often chooses one of the companies to bargain with exclusively until a deal is reached.

This year’s talks are colored by no-strike clauses agreed to by the union as part of the government’s bailout of G.M. and Chrysler. Ford, which turned around financially without the benefit of federal aid, does not have such a clause, and its workers are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike if an acceptable contract cannot be reached. One of the first votes was taken at a Ford plant near Kansas City, Mo., where workers voted 3,049 to 18 in favor of the authorization.

“I think it sends a pretty strong message,” said Jeff Wright, president of U.A.W. Local 249.

But Mr. Wright added that he thought a strike was unlikely. The last national walkout at Ford was in 1976, and Mr. King said he was hopeful that Ford workers would support a contract that offered parity with G.M. and Chrysler.

“I’m confident that if we get a good contract, we’ll get it ratified,” he said.

Analysts expect the companies to entice workers to approve a deal.

“There’s going to be a signing bonus and it could be significant,” said Arthur R. Schwartz, a former G.M. negotiator and the president of Labor and Economic Associates, a consulting firm. “If that money is hanging out there it will be very hard for members to vote no.”

If a deal cannot be reached at G.M. or Chrysler, their contracts would be settled by an arbitration process. Because of the uncertainty in an arbitration proceeding, Ford may choose to wait until G.M., for example, sets a pattern on economic issues like profit sharing before agreeing to the same terms.

And although both management and labor have said talks were moving smoothly so far, analysts discounted the notion that the talks would wrap up before the Sept. 14 expiration date.

The union needs to extend the discussions to the last minute to prove it has achieved the best deal possible, Mr. Shaiken said. “An early deal,” he said, “implies that if you’d been at the table a few more days, then you could have gotten more.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=72083866e6f44565aea458eb0009c6df

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