A holiday boost for UAW workers

Melissa Burden, Michael Wayland and Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

An estimated 142,000 American autoworkers, including 60,000 in Michigan, will receive retroactive pay and $3,000-$10,000 signing bonuses before Christmas, following contract ratifications between Detroit’s Big Three and the United Auto Workers.

Collectively, contract bonuses from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are estimated to put more than $400 million, before taxes, into the pockets of hourly union members in this state. In addition, they’ll get retroactive pay from mid-September, when the previous contract expired.

Retailers across Metro Detroit and in plant communities across the U.S. are gearing up for the potential influx of buyers. Some businesses are soliciting autoworkers with special offers.

“Detroit’s retail fate and the auto industry are one and the same,” said Rachel Tronstein, president of Auburn Hills-based furniture retailer Gardner White. “We plan everything around it.”

At Gardner White furniture, autoworkers can receive about $500 cash back on purchases if they pay up front with bonus money. That offer can be combined with Black Friday deals.

GM and Ford contracts became effective Monday, following ratification Friday.

■Fiat Chrysler workers rejected their first tentative contract before passing a second, more lucrative deal. The automaker’s 36,600 U.S. hourly workers received ratification bonuses Nov. 6, according to a compensation time line obtained by The Detroit News. Entry-level, or in-progression, workers received $3,000; veteran workers received $4,000.

Fiat Chrysler-UAW workers are expected to get retroactive pay to make up the difference in wages from the time the former contract was extended until approval of the new contract — a period running from Sept. 15 through Oct. 25. Checks are expected Dec. 4.

■GM’s 52,700 U.S. hourly employees will receive lump-sum ratification payments of $8,000 for most hourly workers, and $2,000 for temporary workers. Those payments will come in Dec. 4 paychecks. The payout could total more than $420 million nationally, with more than $150 million going to GM’s Michigan workers.

Retroactive pay for GM hourly employees for the period of Sept. 15 through Nov. 23 is expected to be paid in lump sums in the second or third pay period of 2016. A $500 annual quality bonus payment will be made Dec. 11.

GM retirees, about 240,000 in all, will receive $500 checks that will be printed and mailed beginning Dec. 15.

■Ford workers will receive $8,500 ratification bonuses Dec. 4, followed by $1,500 advances in profit sharing on Dec. 11 and $250 annual competitive bonuses on Dec. 13. Workers will receive retroactive pay for the period from Sept. 15 through Nov. 23; those checks will be available by Dec. 20.

Workers at all three of the automakers will have to wait until February or March to receive profit-sharing bonuses based on how the each company’s North American operations performed in 2015.

Over the four years of the former contract, most Fiat Chrysler workers received about $16,500 in bonuses and profit sharing before taxes. Over the same four years, Ford hourly employees received up to $43,200 in bonuses and profit sharing before taxes, and GM workers received $39,250 pre-tax.

Angeline Eimers, an hourly worker at GM’s Pontiac’s Customer Care & Aftersales plant, said the payments over the next few weeks will come at a perfect time around the holidays. However, she isn’t planning a big shopping spree.

“I have nothing big planned for my bonus,” said Eimers, 25. “I’m just going to put it in the bank for now.”

William Sellers, a 56-year-old worker at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant, plans to use the money to help his two children pay their college tuition.

“It isn’t about buying a new Harley or a boat; it’s about taking care of your family,” he said. “Years ago, when the economy was robust, I think you could go out and buy a new car for five or six grand. Now, it’s more about building a foundation and saving.”

Susan Hiltz, a spokeswoman for AAA Michigan, said the bonus payments will help people to book vacations as the holidays and winter approach.

“It stands to reason we’ll see more people visiting our travel offices and booking trips,” she said.

For workers with their sights on new cars or trucks, retirees under the UAW-Fiat Chrysler deal receive $1,000 vouchers; GM retirees receive $500; and Ford retirees receive $250 during each year of the contract.

At least one Metro Detroit auto dealer is offering a special deal for UAW-Fiat Chrysler workers: Parkway Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram will match up to $1,750 on a down payment for UAW members and their families. The deal includes $750 from the company and $1,000 from the Clinton Township dealer.

“This is an unprecedented down-payment match,” said Mike Riley, Parkway general manager. “It keeps gaining momentum. We’re seeing more and more deals.”

Riley said a “few dozen” people have taken advantage of the deal, which started around the time workers were awarded their bonuses. It is expected to continue until the end of the year. Riley said the dealership could offer it again for union profit-sharing or other bonuses.

“It seems to be working,” he said. “So if it helps them and helps us, we will be doing it again.”