UAW-Nexteer deal ratified by union members

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

A majority of United Auto Workers members near Saginaw voted to ratify a new deal with Nexteer Automotive – avoiding a potential strike that could have impacted the Detroit automakers.

UAW Local 699, which represents more than 3,200 workers with the auto supplier, reported early Saturday morning via social media that 61.4 percent of members who voted supported the deal. Vote totals were not released.

The ratification comes less than two weeks after 97 percent of the membership rejected a first deal and went on a 20-hour strike that caused General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to cancel shifts due to parts shortages.

Major changes between the two agreements included a $500 increase in signing bonus to $2,000, increased hourly wages, no-cost health care, additional clarity in language, better pay for forced overtime and several non-economic changes. The new deal also is a five-year agreement instead of four.

The Saginaw union’s 3,200-plus members voted on the new agreement Thursday and Friday, following informational meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. The multiple days of meetings and voting was a change from when meetings and voting previously were crammed into one day for the rejected deal.

Nexteer Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer Mark Decker, in a statement, confirmed the contract’s ratification. He said the new agreement will allow employees to “continue to give their full attention to delivering advanced steering and driveline products” to its customers.

“Our employees have ratified a new labor contract that establishes the principles upon which we will conduct our Saginaw manufacturing operations for the next four and a half years,” he said. “Nexteer is committed to continue to work diligently to optimize our global cost structure, continue to grow our customer base and strengthen our technology leadership in the global automotive market.”

A union representative did not immediately respond for comment when contacted by The Detroit News Saturday morning.

UAW Local 699 President Rick Burzynski previously told The News that the union’s leadership team believed they addressed most workers’ issues in the most recent deal.

The latest deal includes a general wage increase of at least $1 per hour over the current rate for production workers upon ratification, with retroactive pay back to Sept. 15. Current wages range between $12 an hour and $16.28 an hour. At the end of the proposed deal in 2020, wages would range between $15.35 and $18.69.

The starting rate for new hires would increase to $13 an hour and then $15.35 in the fifth year of the deal — a year later than the rejected deal.

All non-production workers besides one group of skilled trades receive at least $1 more in hourly compensation upon ratification as well as lump sum bonuses for most groups.

Members previously voiced several concerns about the rejected agreement such as health care costs, facility maintenance, forced overtime, not regaining past concessions and low wages were among the most common complaints.

The rejected deal, according to Nexteer, included $300 million in new business, health insurance with no employee contributions, hiring of 300-plus temporary workers immediately and more than $50 million in new wages. It included $1,500 signing bonuses. By comparison, UAW workers at the Detroit automakers won signing bonuses ranging from $3,000 to $8,500 in their recently completed contract talks.

Nexteer produces electronic power steering systems, hydraulic steering systems, steering columns and driveline parts globally. It supplies FCA, GM, Ford Motor Co., BMW, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG.

Nexteer employs more than 12,000 globally, including 5,000 in Michigan. In August, the company announced it would open its new global headquarters in Auburn Hills in the second quarter of 2016. Its Global Engineering Center will remain in Saginaw County.

The groundwork for Nexteer’s survival and its sale to Pacific Century Motors was laid in a pivotal labor agreement in 2010, the last ratified by the local union. UAW Local 699 agreed to a reduction in starting pay — wages averaged $27-$28 an hour in the mid-2000s — to about $12.

In 1999, Saginaw Steering Gear became part of Delphi when Delphi was spun off from GM. When Delphi emerged from bankruptcy, GM agreed in October 2009 to buy back its steering plants. It sold Nexteer in 2010 for $450 million.

The Nexteer strike came less than a month after the UAW wrapped up contentious contract talks with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. The 2015 negotiations between union and Detroit automakers revealed underlying frustrations within much of the union membership, but ultimately left workers with more money and job security through at least the next four years.

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