The United Auto Workers ratified the General Motors Co. contract agreement Friday, after the union and GM agreed to some language clarification around skilled trades classifications.
The four-year agreement, effective Monday, came after the union spent two weeks researching why skilled trades workers rejected the deal, even though production workers approved it. The Detroit automaker and the UAW agreed to a tentative deal nearly a month ago.
Later Friday night, ratification of the UAW contract with Ford was announced. The deal was passed by a slim 51.4 percent margin, the union said late Friday. Roughly 51.3 percent of production workers voted for the deal, while 52.4 percent skilled trades said “yes.” Ford was the last of Detroit’s Big Three to vote on an agreement; Fiat Chrysler was first.
In announcing the GM contract ratification Friday, the UAW said in a statement: “Following discussions with GM, the parties agreed to changes that protect core trades classifications and seniority rights. The UAW-GM Council met to discuss these changes and concluded that the common skilled trades issues were addressed and recommended that the changes be presented to the IEB (International Executive Board) with the council’s full and unanimous support.
“Based on the fact that the majority of the UAW-GM membership ratified the national agreement and that the skilled trades membership concerns about protecting the core trades classifications and seniority rights have now been met, the IEB took action to formally ratify the UAW-GM national agreement.”
GM and the union agreed to changes that will allow pipefitters, millwrights, machine repairists and toolmakers to keep their current classifications, though the parties agreed that those workers could be cross-trained to allow the company flexibility, according to two sources familiar with the parties’ agreement.
The language clarity also will protect seniority rights for the group of workers, according to one source familiar with the union and company agreement.
The changes also include adding millwright, pipefitter, toolmaker and machine repair to the list of apprentices classifications, according to a source with knowledge of the change and a written summary of Friday’s UAW-GM council meeting. The summary also said the company provided clarity on a bidding process to “regain non-strategic” work.
The IEB, a group of 14 members including UAW officers and regional directors, met Friday afternoon. UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said in a letter Friday evening to union leaders and shop chairs that the board had deemed the contract ratified. “I would like to personally thank the local union leadership who supported the agreement,” Estrada wrote.
GM said in a statement it was pleased the agreement has been ratified, calling it “good for employees and the business.”
GM and the UAW reached a tentative four-year agreement Oct. 25. The union on Nov. 6 released results: 55.4 percent of GM’s 52,700 hourly workers approved the contract, but 59.5 percent of skilled trades workers rejected the deal.
That stalled ratification, as the UAW investigated why the group representing about 8,500 workers — or about 16 percent of GM’s hourly workforce — voted against the deal. A week ago, the union announced an extension of the ratification deadline through Friday as talks with GM about skilled trades concerns continued; the original ratification deadline had been Nov. 13.
The review of skilled trades workers’ concerns found they had issues pertaining to local contract agreements, reclassification of trades, numbers of apprentices, concern over outsourcing or loss of jobs, and absence of cost of living increases and buyouts. GM skilled trades workers also have told The Detroit News they are concerned re-classifications could require them to do multiple jobs, leading to issues around safety and loss of seniority or shift preferences.
Despite the clarity around skilled trades, it’s possible some skilled trades workers may push back, possibly filing an appeal or showing their displeasure in other ways in the factories or in grassroots efforts.
The ratification delay led to some tension between production and skilled trades workers, with some production workers upset because they wanted their $8,000 ratification bonuses sooner.
Brandy Booth, a former skilled trades worker of about 20 years who now works production at Bay City Powertrain, said he isn’t upset the union ratified the deal, even though skilled trades voted it down. He said it’s the union’s right.
“I don’t feel like I got short-changed at all,” he said. “I do wish the company and union would have taken a look at opportunities in the skilled trades workforce. The skilled trades have really gone up in value.”
Booth, 42, said he hopes that those workers who might be upset by the process “don’t take that negative energy back to the floor with them.”
GM’s tentative agreement includes 1,300 new skilled trades placements, including at least 400 new apprentices, the first 200 of which would be added next year. GM skilled trades workers aren’t eligible for a $60,000 early retirement incentive that GM will offer up to 4,000 eligible employees as part of the contract.
Art Schwartz, a former negotiator with GM and president of the Labor and Economics Associates consultancy firm, said he wasn’t surprised the union ratified the deal, even though skilled trades workers voted against it.
“They did due diligence, and I think they did the right thing,” he said. “They took their time, they canvassed.”
The agreement includes an $8,000 signing bonus for all workers and $2,000 for temporary workers.
The contract is likely to cost GM more money. GM’s labor costs will rise to $60 an hour by 2019, up from $55, according to a new study released Friday by Schwartz and Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry & Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research.
But over the term of the contract, GM’s labor cost per vehicle actually is slated to decline slightly to $2,350 in 2019, from $2,374 in 2014, according to CAR.
GM declined to comment on the external labor cost estimates.
Staff Writer Michael Wayland contributed.