GM, UAW work out local contract details
While the deal approved by the United Auto Workers laid the groundwork for significant changes in compensation and employment practices for GM’s 74,000 hourly workers, the local contracts being negotiated around the country will determine how those changes are put into practice.
John Dohner Jr., UAW Local 95’s shop committee chairman at the Janesville plant, said local negotiations could stretch through the end of this year. He hopes they don’t linger into next year.
To a certain extent, he said, the hands of the local parties are tied at the national level.
“A lot of the stuff we’re waiting for has to come from the national parties,” he said.
Topping that list is the scope and definition of what the national agreement refers to as “core” and “non-core” jobs.
The national contract creates a second level of lower-paid workers for jobs not considered central to building cars and trucks. Examples of non-core jobs include material movement, inventory management, finished vehicle driving, paint room mixers and subassembly.
While core jobs pay about $28 an hour, the non-core jobs will start at about $14 an hour.
Dohner said teams of GM and UAW representatives will classify jobs as either core or non-core. That takes time.
“It’s the prime reason” for the delay in local negotiations, Dohner said.
The 2,500 or so hourly employees at the Janesville plant need not worry about having their current jobs re-classified to the lower pay level. They’re all protected at their current wages.
But new hires are a different story. They’ll be hired into specific jobs that need to be properly classified on a plant-by-plant basis. With guidance, union locals and GM also must agree on which jobs can be hired out to contract workers.
“The joint parties will lay out the parameters for us,” Dohner said. “They’ll set the box. Then we’ll know what we have to do to stay within the box.”
In the meantime, local negotiations continue almost daily over other issues specific to the Janesville.
“We’re actively working on all the things that we don’t need guidelines to work on,” Plant Manager Gary Malkus said. “To speculate that the negotiations will stretch out this long or that long would be just that, speculation.”
Several local union presidents told the Detroit Free Press that their talks are dragging on. Only a handful of factories have local agreements in place.
“You’re setting precedents with these local agreements. They’re very important, and they can be contentious,” Harley Shaiken, a University of California-Berkeley labor expert, told the newspaper. “What the international wouldn’t want to see is one local going in one direction and another local going another way.”
Even in typical contract years, local agreements take time. The UAW-GM 2003 national contract was ratified in late September, while the local contract in Janesville wasn’t signed until the middle of December.