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Momentum Builds Toward Ratification of GM Contract

Momentum has been building toward the United Auto Workers accepting a tentative contract with General Motors, though members at some key locals backed it by narrow margins in results released Thursday.

The UAW's more than 73,000 active members at GM are aligned in dozens of locals across the United States that must vote on the contract settlement reached last week that ended a two-day national strike against the largest U.S. automaker.

A majority of workers casting ballots must approve for the contract to be ratified and the UAW has aimed to complete the vote by Oct. 10. The UAW has yet to complete contract talks with Ford Motor and privately held Chrysler.

At least eight UAW locals representing more than 10,000 of the active members had completed voting this week and approved of the contract. Exact figures were unavailable.

The contract with GM would set a second-tier lower wage for workers not involved in direct production and a trust for retiree health-care aligned with the union. It also would make 3,000 temporary workers permanent and permit buyouts.

A quarter of the factory workers could be replaced with lower cost hires eventually under the contract.

Workers at UAW Local 31 for a GM assembly plant near Kansas City, Kansas, and at UAW Local 594 in Pontiac, Michigan, voted to accept the contract with 56% and 58% respectively, a lower support than at other locals.

"It will be a good agreement," UAW Local 31 President Jeff Manning said in a telephone interview, adding that the members were most concerned about the core and non-core jobs classifications that have yet to be fully worked out.

The turnout was good among the 2,400 to 2,500 eligible workers, Manning said.

Higher Wage Level

In Lake Orion, Michigan, south of Flint, Michigan, Local 5960-represented production workers backed the contract at 70% and skilled trades workers at 62%. The local has about 2,700 active members, including 620 temporary workers.

"Some people are happy about it because they will take the buyouts and retire," but most are unhappy with the new hire provision of the contract because it limits the available pool of jobs at the higher wage level, Local 5960 President Pat Sweeney said.

Local 5960-represented workers assemble the Pontiac G6 and has no production commitments after 2013, but Sweeney said workers tend to focus on the four-year contract when voting. GM has told him the plant is doing the right things for getting new products, he said.

In Flint, Local 599 GM production workers backed the contract at 78% and skilled trades workers at 70%. Local 598 will vote into Friday.

Earlier in the day, Local 599 President Bill Jordan said workers were certainly unhappy about the two-tier wage system, but called the deal the lesser of two evils and phenomenal given the circumstances.

"Given the economy and GM's financial condition, I'm shocked they could come up with a contract like this."

Local 598 recording secretary Debi Kirchner, who has worked for GM for 32 years, said the contract preserved jobs, even if it created a second-tier wage system. Voting at that local ends Friday.

"I'm glad we are keeping jobs in North America, the two-tier wage system is a concern for many members, but they have to realize that those non-core jobs GM could have just outsourced," Kirchner said.

Retirees had mixed emotions.

"I think it's very good that the union will now be in control over the health care," said Dennis Martin, a retiree from Local 599 in Flint who retired from GM three years ago after nearly 40 years with the company.

"I feel very secure because otherwise our health care would be negotiated in every contract in the future, now it's done," Martin said.

Douglas Flowers, 64, retired 15 years ago after 30 years at GM, also liked the VEBA plan.

"They have got to do better than GM did," Flowers said.

Roy Meade, 81, who worked for 32 years at GM and retired 28 years ago, has misgivings about the contract and the VEBA.

"I don't like the idea of the union running our health care," Meade said.