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Local 95 OKs contract with GM

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JAMES P. LEUTE
August 23, 2008
— Concessionary yet competitive.

That’s how United Auto Workers Local 95 leaders characterized a contract that’s considered a cornerstone to any chance a local coalition has to maintain a General Motors presence in Janesville.


The local contract ratified Friday is expected to be part of a presentation a diverse leadership group will make soon to GM officials who announced in June that a dying market for full-size sport utility vehicles would end production in Janesville by 2010 at the latest.


By an overwhelming margin Friday, Local 95 members ratified the four-year agreement that union and company negotiators reached earlier this week. The negotiations stretched for 14 months, a period when union officials said they went from a strong bargaining position to one overshadowed by extensive layoffs and a plant closing.


Union members ratified a national contract last fall that 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 grievances.


Eighty-four percent of the 1,013 production workers who voted Friday approved the local contract. Among skilled trades employees, 68 percent supported the agreement. Overall, workers OK’d the contract by an 81 percent to 19 percent margin.


John Dohner Jr., Local 95’s shop chairman at GM, said the union conceded to changes in work rules that had been in place for years.


“It’s like the story one guy told me today about the hiker in the mountains who gets his arm pinned under the rock,” Dohner said after Friday’s vote. “You do what you have to do.”


In addition to the elimination of decades-old work rules, the local union agreed to allow outside companies to handle more sequencing and sub-assembly work, whether it’s done inside or outside of the plant.


That part of the local agreement, however, must be approved at the national level by GM and the international UAW, Dohner said.


An increase in supplier work would significantly cut GM’s costs. It would also reduce the hourly payroll at the Janesville plant, which after a series of layoffs and an early-retirement/buyout package now stands at about 1,200.


Dohner said he has no idea what hourly employment might eventually be here.


“Make no mistake, this is a concessionary agreement, and your bargaining committee has done its best to get a contract that could possibly get us a future product,” Local 95 officials wrote in a highlights package for UAW members.


“…We have a very minimal chance of receiving a new product, but there is always a chance.”


The contract ratified Friday is a “competitive operating agreement” that GM is using as a new standard to assess each plant’s commitment to world-class manufacturing. Under what GM calls its “True North” system, plants and their local contracts are scored on a 100-point basis.


Local 95 officials said recent Toyota contracts, as well as ratified deals at GM plants in Lansing and Pontiac, Mich., scored in the mid-90s.


Dohner said the contract should score out at 100 percent, which would generate a lot of attention in Detroit.


“It’s basically about flexibility and how low cost you can run the plant,” Dohner said. “It gives us the ability to run this plant like a Toyota plant.


“Just give us the chance, and we can do it.”


Brad Dutcher, a former Local 95 president, current international UAW servicing representative and the co-chair of the local coalition, said the ratified contract will be a “significant” part of the package he and others take to Detroit.


“It puts us out in front of every other North American plant,” he said.


Brad Dutcher, a former Local 95 president, current international UAW servicing representative and the co-chair of the local coalition, said the ratified contract will be a “significant” part of the package he and others take to Detroit.


“It puts us out in front of every other North American plant,” he said.


Dutcher and Dohner were pleased with Friday’s turnout, particularly with the fact that more than 1,200 workers turned out to vote at a time when the plant is in the first week of a three-week layoff caused by slow sales.


“I really give credit to the members,” Dutcher said. “They understood that we needed to make significant changes, and they showed up in droves to support the contract.


“This should send a strong message to Detroit.”



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