GM workers to vote on contract Friday
A local contract also is seen as an important element in efforts to convince GM to stay in Janesville.
After nearly 14 months of negotiation, United Auto Workers Local 95 and General Motors reached a tentative deal Tuesday on a four-year contract that governs operations at the Janesville plant, which GM has said it will close by the end of 2010 at the latest.
Informational meetings about the contract and a ratification vote have been scheduled for Friday.
After a brief strike last fall, the UAW ratified a four-year national contract with GM.
While the national pact sets wages, benefits and policy on broad matters, the local contract covers particular operations in a plant, such as the amount of work performed by union members that can be given to outside suppliers. It also deals with job standards, worker classifications, seniority rights and a laundry list of grievances since the last contract was settled.
John Dohner Jr., Local 95's shop chairman at GM, would not discuss specifics of the contract. He said union members will hear the details from union bargainers on Friday.
"We negotiated a contract that gives our membership a chance of a future," he said.
Dohner declined to elaborate on whether that future might include a new product for the Janesville assembly plant.
The future of the local plant has been the talk of the town since GM announced earlier this year that it would cut second-shift production of Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes and GMC Yukon XLs and Yukons. The automaker followed up that announcement with the news that it intends to cease production in Janesville by 2010 at the latest.
Starting this week, the plant's 1,150 hourly and 130 salaried workers are off for three weeks because of slowing SUV sales and high dealer inventories. Non-production weeks also have been announced for the weeks of Sept. 29 and Nov. 3.
‘No stone unturned'
A local task force organized by Gov. Jim Doyle is developing a strategy to maintain some sort of GM presence in Janesville. The group plans to present its plans to GM officials in Detroit in the next few weeks, and Dohner said that a ratified local contract is a necessary part of the group's strategy.
"Local contracts often become tougher when a plant closing is looming," said Harley Shaiken, a labor and global economy professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "There's a real desire to see if there's anything that can be done on a local level to reverse the decisions that have been made."
Shaiken said locals facing a plant closing tend to compromise and make major changes in work rules at the plant. Points of discussion that might carry more weight in a normal contract negotiation fall to the bottom of the list, he said.
"When locals are confronted with the kind of situation that the one in Janesville is, they'll make sure they leave no stone unturned," he said. "The local wants to be seen as a group that can run a productive plant."
Local contracts typically lag behind national agreements, but the 11-month delay in reaching this contract is unusual, Dohner said. Local negotiations have been held up by GM buyouts, production cuts and ultimately by the announcement that the plant will close sometime in the next 2 1/2 years.
"It's been different than any other contract," he said. "It's been very trying."
If the local coalition is unsuccessful in securing future work for Janesville, workers will likely be laid off after GM gives the state a 60-day plant closing notice. It's also possible GM will offer some sort of a mutual separation package.
Some industry observers have speculated that GM could notify the state of the impending closure in late October or early November, as the plant has no production scheduled for the final two months of the year.
If the plant closes, GM workers will keep their health insurance benefits and receive the majority of their take-home pay until 2011, when the national contract expires.
Workers will receive state unemployment compensation checks that in most cases will be at the maximum of $355 per week. Supplemental unemployment benefits that were negotiated into their national contract will boost that state check to cover a majority of the workers' pre-tax weekly take-home pay.
When state unemployment runs out after 26 weeks, SUB pay will increase to cover the loss of unemployment and continue for another 22 weeks.
When 48 weeks of unemployment and SUB pay are exhausted, the workers likely will move into GM's Jobs Bank and return to full pay, even though they are no longer working in the plant.
While in the Jobs Bank, workers must accept job transfers to other GM facilities or be cut completely from the automaker's wage and benefits programs.
United Auto Workers Local 95 has reached a tentative agreement with General Motors on a local contract in Janesville.
What: Informational meetings and a ratification vote.
When: Meetings at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, with voting between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. The doors will open at 9:30 a.m.
Where: Holiday Inn Express & Janesville Conference Center, 3100 Wellington Place, Janesville.
Other: Informational packets will be available Friday morning and handed out upon check-in. Proper identification—a UAW membership card, a GM badge or a driver's license—is necessary to attend and obtain a ballot.