UAW delegates increase leader salaries while rejecting 'equal pay for equal work' amendment

Detroit — United Auto Workers delegates on Tuesday rejected an opportunity to codify in their constitution "equal pay for equal work" ahead of next year's negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers, and increased the salaries of International Executive Board officers.

The "two-tier" system implemented during 2007 negotiations prior to the auto industry's taxpayer bailout have long been a complaint of workers. They allowed the companies to start employees hired after 2007 at lower wages and without a pension. Looking ahead, the automakers' creation of joint ventures to build electric-vehicle batteries, many fear, would create the opportunity for the companies to offer different pay and benefits to those workers, too.

Members listen as AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler speaks at the 38th Annual UAW Constitution Convention at Huntington Place in Detroit on July 26, 2022.

"I have a lot of concern with the two-tier system. I would like to see some moves to get away from that and see more activism in that direction," said Cynthia "CC" Krontz, 40, a delegate from Local 3058 in Louisville, Kentucky, who works for Dana Inc. "There's a lot of exciting possible changes that are brewing and some discontent about what happened ... This is a tumultuous time, but we can come together to change things and make it better."

The resolution presented during this week's quadrennial Constitutional Convention demanded the IEB seek the elimination of tiers. It initially was voted out of committee by at least 15% of the approximately 900 delegates, after it was sent to be discussed at next spring's bargaining convention. But before the full convention, the resolution failed to secure a majority of support.

Joseph Almy, 50, a delegate from Local 4199 in Minerva, Ohio, and an employee of American Axle & Manufacturing Inc., said he doesn't like the tiered system, but voted against the resolution, because "that should be done at the negotiating table."

Further discussion of the proposal will happen at the bargaining convention when priorities for labor talks with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV will be discussed. The 2019 contracts do bring all full-time workers to top wages in September of next year.

"It definitely needs to be done away with," said Keith Kriglstein, 37, a delegate for Local 1268 in Belvidere, Illinois, who works for a supplier of the Stellantis NV Jeep plant there. "It's long over due."

Pushing the resolution to the bargaining convention will allow the union some flexibility over enumerating it in its governing documents, critics of the resolution said during debate.

UAW President Ray Curry at the 38th Annual UAW Constitution Convention at Huntington Place in Detroit on July 26, 2022.

"Unions like the UAW, that are industrial unions, the basis for their collective power and solidarity is, essentially, equal pay for equal work," said Susan Schurman, distinguished professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. "And when you have a system that emerged where new people are in a whole other tier that make a lot less … for the regular worker, there’s always the threat that their wages will be driven down to that level. 'It’s important to bring those people’s wages up, so ours don’t get down to theirs.'"

Later, following some procedural confusion and heated debate, delegates approved a 3% salary increase for IEB members. The passed resolution also clarifies salaries by stating the dollar figure in the constitution rather than basing them off the pay of international representatives.

Almy said he understand the frustrations of members over corruption identified during a federal investigation that landed two former presidents in prison. But as a two-time local vice president, he has an idea of the work that goes into the job, too.

"You're never off the clock," he said. "It's a lot more than a rank-and-file job."

Other resolutions discussed on Tuesday focused on the union's direct election of IEB officers, the first of which will be held starting in October. Delegates rejected a proposal that would've allowed retirees to run for office. Retirees still can vote in the mail-in ballot election that starts Oct. 17.

The delegates also opted to institute a $2,000 contribution cap to candidates. This change, however, won't take effect until 2026. When the court-appointed monitor, lawyer Neil Barofsky, published the rules for the 2022 election in May, he wrote in a report at the time that implementing a cap "was impractical given the short time available to prepare a campaign finance system for this Election."

"Everyone has more of an equal playing field," said Kriglstein from Belvidere.

The convention also approved the creation of a new region — Region 6. It came after the International Executive Board in 2019 opted to dissolve corruption-riddled Region 5. Region 6 will encompass 40,000 members in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.