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UAW OKs concessions

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JAMES P. LEUTE
December 4, 2008
— Eliminating an income protection program for laid-off General Motors workers would cut by nearly 70 percent the length of time displaced autoworkers in Janesville collect wages and benefits.

Hundreds of United Auto Workers leaders, including two from Janesville, voted Wednesday to make concessions to Detroit's Big Three automakers, including one that would end a program that let laid-off workers collect a substantial part of their salaries.


Technically known as Job Opportunity Bank-Security, the JOBS Bank allows laid-off workers to collect a significant part of their pay when they aren't working.


The bank, created in the 1980s as a trade-off to the UAW in return for increased factory automation, kicks in 48 weeks after autoworkers are laid off. It runs for a maximum of two years.


Eliminating the JOBS Bank would shorten the window of wages and benefits for laid-off Janesville workers from 152 weeks to 48 weeks.


GM plans to end production Dec. 23 of full-size sport utility vehicles in Janesville, and the plant has not been assigned any further production.


More than 1,200 hourly GM workers in Janesville will be laid off effective Jan. 2, after their negotiated holiday vacation.


They will then collect state unemployment compensation checks that in most cases will be at the maximum of $355 per week. Supplemental unemployment benefits negotiated into their national contract will boost that state check to a significant part of the worker's pre-tax weekly take-home pay.


When state unemployment runs out after 26 weeks, SUB pay will increase to cover the loss of state unemployment and continue for another 22 weeks.


When 48 weeks of unemployment and SUB pay are exhausted in December 2009, the workersóas it stands nowówould move into the JOBS Bank and get a significant part of their pay.


While in the two-year JOBS Bank, workers must accept job transfers to other GM facilities or be cut completely from the automaker's wage and benefits programs.


With the JOBS Bank program in place, displaced Janesville workers would collect a significant part of their wages and all of their benefits through December 2011. Without the program, those wages and benefits could disappear next December.


The scenario would be similar for the 852 GM workers laid off this summer when the automaker cut production in Janesville from two shifts to one. Without a JOBS Bank, the wages and benefits for those workers would end by next spring or summer.


John Dohner Jr., UAW Local 95 shop chairman at GM in Janesville, said union leaders voted Wednesday to look at modifications in their respective national contracts, including eliminating the JOBS Bank.


For Dohner, that could mean more time in Detroit. He was on the UAW's top committee that in 2007 negotiated a four-year contract with GM.


"What we voted to do was to look at modifications in the contract," he said this morning.


UAW President Ron Gettelfinger was more direct in addressing the JOBS bank, saying the union would suspend the program.


After national contracts are modified, it's likely local agreements at GM plants across the country could be renegotiated.


Dohner said that's unlikely in Janesville, where Local 95 ratified a contract this summer that Dohner and other local union leaders said is the most competitive among GM plants.


That contract was hammered out as a local coalition put together a plan to convince GM officials to assign a new product to the Janesville plant.



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