April 2, 2009 at 1:00 am

GM says it will save $1B if UAW OKs pacts

Washington -- General Motors Corp. says new labor agreements with the United Auto Workers, if approved by the union membership, will save the automaker at least $1 billion annually.

GM outlined the savings in a 17-page progress report that was submitted Tuesday to the Treasury Department and made public by the company Wednesday.

The automaker's hourly employee costs in 2003 were $18.4 billion, including legacy costs for retiree programs.

Last year, hourly costs fell to $7.6 billion, and the company projects they can be further trimmed to $6.5 billion this year and to $4.8 billion by 2012.

Before the company submitted its viability plan to the government Feb. 17, "GM and the UAW reached a tentative agreement modifying wages, benefits and work rules to become more cost competitive in the United States," the report says.

The total savings, GM said, could increase if more "lower-cost Tier II and temporary employees are utilized." GM has been urging more older workers to retire so it can hire more new and less expensive workers.

The automaker disclosed that the 7,500 UAW workers who accepted buyouts or early retirements last week were 1,000 above internal projections.

GM is still negotiating to win at least $10 billion in concessions from the union over a health care trust fund that takes over hourly retiree health care starting next year. Under the terms of its loan agreements, GM was to have reduced the cash payments to the trust by at least 50 percent -- or more than $10 billion -- by March 31 and to have won wages and benefits competitive with foreign carmakers building vehicles in the United States.

GM also disclosed it has sought a total of $10.3 billion in Energy Department loans from the government's $25 billion low-cost loan retooling program.

But because the Obama administration said GM's viability plan isn't workable, and rejected that proposal Monday, it's unclear if the department can legally go ahead with loans to GM. The department is expected to announce its first round of loans late this month or next month.

GM also said in its report the fuel efficiency of its 2009 passenger car fleet will average 31.2 mpg. Its trucks will average 24.0 mpg. Also Wednesday, Chrysler LLC Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli was in Washington, D.C., to meet with the auto task force, along with executives from merger hopeful Fiat SpA.

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