Janesville65°

National pact delays contract for local union

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JAMES P. LEUTE
January 15, 2008
— Hurry up and wait.

That’s the best characterization of facility-specific negotiations between representatives of General Motors and the United Auto Workers at auto plants across the country.


Last fall, the UAW ratified a four-year national contract with GM. Negotiations on local contracts, which cover operations at specific plants, started last summer but have been delayed by the landmark national agreement.


“We’re still working, still meeting,” John Dohner Jr., GM shop committee chairman for UAW Local 95, said of contract discussions in Janesville.


While negotiations on local contracts typically linger beyond national agreements, it would be unusual for local negotiations to continue into February.


But this contract is different, and directives from the national parties have tied the hands of local negotiators.


At the root of the delay is the national contract’s language on a new two-tier wage system that classifies jobs as either “core” or “non-core.” Core jobs, those directly connected to the assembly line, pay about $28 per hour, while the non-core jobs pay about half of that.


Determining what are core and non-core jobs takes time, and company and union officials at the national level are visiting nearly every plant to help makes those determinations.


Dohner said the parties have not visited the Janesville plant, which has about 2,500 hourly and 200 salaried workers. But they are expected, he said.


Further complicating the issue is an employee attrition program that GM is expected to announce this week. Such a buyout plan would likely reduce employment levels at plants around the country, making today’s headcounts and job classifications worthless in a couple of months.


GM Chairman Rick Wagoner said over the weekend that the automaker is working with the UAW to determine how the second phase of a new attrition program would be rolled out and who will be eligible. In December, GM announced the first phase, which offered buyouts to 5,200 workers at GM service, parts and operations facilities nationwide as well as a handful of facilities already closed or targeted for closure.


The employee reductions are part of GM’s efforts to cut costs, a move that one labor analyst said over the weekend could put GM’s U.S. hourly labor costs below those of Toyota by 2011.


Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research said the recent national contract will cut GM’s labor cost per vehicle in North America by about $1,382 by 2011.


“General Motors may have not only eliminated its labor cost gap with Toyota Motor Corp. in North America, it may actually be at an advantage,” McAlinden told journalists at the Detroit Auto Show.


One of the reasons for that, he said, is the two-tier wage system that corporate and union officials are rolling out on a plant-by-plant basis.


McAlinden said GM is expected to replace nearly 40 percent of its 72,280 hourly workforce by 2011. That will reduce its total labor costs from $62 per hour for top-tier workers to about $26 per hour for 20,000 workers and $47 per hour for about 9,000 workers.


“They won’t be any more expensive than $47 an hour,” McAlinden said. “Why is $47 important? That is the Toyota-estimated, all-in labor cost in the United States.”


Material from McClatchy-Tribune was used in this story.

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