Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hundreds gather as UAW addresses domestic auto crisis

Representatives of the United Auto Workers union arrive to General Motors headquarters for meetings with company executives on Wednesday. (Fabrizio Costantini / The New York Times)

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Hundreds of United Auto Workers locals have converged at the Marriott Hotel in the Renaissance Center this morning, and many are prepared to be asked by top UAW leaders to reopen national labor agreements that will allow for a vast overhaul of the way autoworkers are paid, the health and retiree benefits they receive, and determine how many will hold on to their jobs.

The local leaders said it was unclear if they were going to vote today on reopening, which is the first step toward a general vote for its 139,000 active workers. But on Tuesday, each of the Detroit automakers made it clear they intend to reopen the 2007 labor agreements.

UAW vice president General Holiefield also kept mum on the details.


"I'd hate to get it out there just yet because I don't know which way Ron is going to go with this," Holiefield said, referring to UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

UAW local representatives will be addressed by Gettelfinger this morning. Later in the day, meetings will be held for each of the three automakers.

Detroit's Big Three automakers submitted plans to U.S. Congress on Tuesday declaring a need for an immediate $34 billion government bailout in order to survive. General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC warned they could soon collapse without the emergency aid. Ford Motor Co. said it should break even by 2011 but needs more concessions from its hourly workforce.

GM has offered to eliminate up 31,000 jobs, shutter nine plants and either shrink, sell or possibly kill three additional brands. Ford said it needs to bargain with the UAW on wages, benefits and work rules. Chrysler only said it will "seek meaningful concessions from each of its major constituents."

The union has lost more than 119,000 auto workers since 2006 and now represents 139,000 active workers. It agreed last year to a contract that reduced total hourly pay and benefits for new hires to about $26 from about $78, and new hires also wouldn't be eligible for pensions. The contract also called for creating union-managed trusts that will take over retiree health-care obligations starting in 2010.

UAW Local 600 delegate Gary Walkowicz, who works at the massive Ford Rouge facility in Dearborn, said he was opposed to reopening the contract.

"We've already given enough," he said. But many other delegates said they understood Detroit automakers were facing collapse.

"A great many of us are prepared to trust our leadership," said UAW Local 22 President George McGregor.

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