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UAW Locals Begin Voting on UAW-GM Contract

Reuters
Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007 | 1:31 AM ET

United Auto Workers members at a local headquartered near Detroit voted overwhelmingly on Monday to approve the union's tentative contract with General Motorsin one of the first tests for the new labor pact.

Members of UAW Local 174 voted to approve the proposed contract by an 80% to 20% margin at one GM facility and by 70% to 30% margin in the other, Local President Doug Grima said.

The vote by the local, which represents 250 to 300 workers at GM service parts operations in Ypsilanti and Livonia, Michigan, was among the first to vote on the proposed four-year contract.

That pact, which the UAW and GM reached last week, ended a two-day strike against GM, the UAW's first national walkout against the No. 1 U.S. automaker since 1970. The contract requires the approval of a majority of the more than 73,000 active UAW members at GM. The union began briefing its locals in the past few days and hopes to complete the ratification process by Oct. 10.

Pattern Bargaining May Not Hold

The UAW also must negotiate new contracts with Ford Motorand privately held Chrysler, though UAW leaders expect the GM deal to serve as a pattern for the other two. But talks may not go smoothly.

According to the Journal, union negotiators for workers at Chrysler have signaled reluctance to tacitly approve a deal that mirrors the tentative one with GM. UAW officials on the Chrysler bargaining team met on Sunday to discuss the GM deal, and most members decided against supporting the agreement because of a provision for lower wages and benefits for newly hired
workers, the report said. These officials are also worried about the UAW's willingness to set up a new healthcare trust, the article said.

At the same time, Ford management has its own issues with such an agreement, said the Journal reports. The problems don't necessarily imperil the prospects of reaching similar deals as reached last week with GM, but it shows that for UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, sticking to the union's long-held tradition of having an agreement with one set the pattern for the other two - a system known as pattern bargaining - could be a difficult balancing act given the various states of restructuring among Detroit's auto makers.

Temporary Satisfaction?

The GM deal gave union members some job security, while allowing GM to hire new non-production workers at lower wages and benefits and establish a trust for retiree health-care from which both the UAW and GM expect to benefit.

Grima said members appeared to be satisfied with the contract, which retained the local's Ypsilanti facility that had been among those set to close. "People understand the times we are in," Grima said of the contract. "The promise of work staying here, and new products in our plants," makes the deal positive for UAW-represented workers.

The contract would make 3,000 temporary UAW GM workers full employees at top wages, provide a $3,000 signing bonus and gives lump-sum payments for the last three years of the deal.

"I think people are happy, considering what we thought," said Altanette Williams, who has been with GM for 30 years. "I'm sure the temporaries are happy now."

Still, some were not satisfied with the second-tier of wages and benefits for new union-represented hires. "The middle class was built on our wages and benefits," said Bill Bagwell, a
22-year veteran at GM who questioned whether it could pit the new hires against the veterans.

"I'm glad that 22 years ago there were some old timers looking out for me and I wish I could say we were looking out for those coming behind us."

Grima said up to 85% of the local's members voted on the tentative contract.

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