The announcement by UAW President Ron Gettlefinger that his union may make material changes to its contract to help the Big 3 is a big deal.
This is the news Detroit, and more importantly, Congress has been waiting for. Without union concessions, getting a federal bailout would have been more difficult and the deal would not have been as lucrative.
The most important aspects of the UAW considering changes to its contract are the following.
• Delaying (with interest) payments the Big 3 are scheduled to make to the healthcare (VEBA) fund. This will give the Big three billions of dollars of breathing room in the months to come.
• Making changes in job security and work rules that could, potentially lower costs substantially for the Big 3. More importantly, they are changes the union can make without having to crack open the contract, which would require a vote by the rank and file. That will speed up the process and give all partied more flexibility.
• Suspend the "jobs bank". This is a move that will do more for the UAW's image then the bottom line of the auto makers. The jobs bank is a shell of what it used to be, with a fraction of the workers it used to hold, but the public will see it's curtailed use as a sign the UAW "gets it."
While many will say Congress needs to know exactly how much the UAW will sacrifice in dollars and cents, today's step should help Washington feel better about a buyout. Gettlefinger is a tough negotiator, but also very pragmatic. He knows the union has to step up and help the auto makers.
- UAW To Halt 'Jobs Bank,' Rework Healthcare Trust
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